ॐ Hindu Of Universe ॐ

“God’s light is within you, It never leaves you.”


About Patanjali
It is believed that Maharishi Patanjali was the avatar of Adi Shesha – the Infinite Cosmic Serpent upon whom Lord Vishnu rests. He is considered to be the compiler of the Yoga Sutras, along with being the author of a commentary on Panini’s Ashtadhyayi, known as Mahabhasya. He is also supposed to be the writer of a work on the ancient Indian medicine system, Ayurveda. Read on this biography further to know more about Maharishi Patanjali and his philosophy.

His Life
The life history of Patanjali is full of legends and contradictions. There are no authentic records regarding his birth. As per one legend, he fell (pata) into the hands (anjali) of a woman, thus giving him the name Patanjali.

Patanjali Yoga Sutras
It is said that once, while watching a dance by Lord Shiva, Adi Shesha found it unbearable to support the weight of Lord Vishnu. Amazed at this, he asked Lord Vishnu the reason for the same. Lord Vishnu said that this was because of his harmony with Lord Shiva’s energy state, owing to the practice of Yoga. Realizing the value and benefits of Yoga, Adi Shesha decided to be born amongst humans as ‘Patanjali’, to teach them the great art.

Yoga Sutras are considered to serve as the basis of the yogic techniques. Maharishi Patanjali, “The Father of Yoga”, compiled 195 sutras, which serve as a framework for integrating Yoga into the daily routine and leading an ethical life. The exact date of the compilation of the Yoga Sutras is not known. However, it is believed that they were written somewhere around 200 BC. The core of Patanjali’s teachings lies in the eightfold path of yoga. The path shows the way to live a better life through yoga.

Almost everything about Patanjali(sometime between 2nd century B.C. and 5th century A.D.) is unknown; and his life had been distorted by myth and numerous legends. He is also called Gonardiya or Gonkaputra.According to one legend he was the son of Angiras, one of the ten sons of Brahma, the Creator; and of Sati, the consort of Siva. If so, this would make him not only the grandson of the Creator of the universe, but also the brother of Brhaspati, god of wisdom and eloquence and chief offeror of sacrifices. As for where exactly he was born is also not clear. Nor is clear exactly where he lived. His marriage is also legendary. One day he discovered an exquisitely and enchantingly beautiful woman, Lolupa, in the hollow of a tree on the north slope of Mount Sumeru-the top of the celestial mountain of enlightenment. He promptly married her, thus indissolubly joining himself to the fruits of spiritual quest, and lived happy old age.

He authored various books. Among them, he is famous as an author or one of the authors of two great Hindu classics: the first, Yoga Sutras (also known as Yoga Darshana), a categorization of Yogic thought arranged in four volumes; and the second, the Mahabhashya (“Great Commentary”).

The Yoga Sutra seems to span several centuries, the first three volumes apparently written in the 2nd century B.C. and the last book in the 5th century A.D. Authorities therefore tend to credit more than one author writing under this name, although there is wide variance in opinion. There is a possibility that many persons used this name, because it was used by the authors of a number of other works on such diverse subjects as medicine, metrics, music, and alchemy. The name itself is obviously a pseudonym, since it denotes no caste and implies divine descent from the Great Serpent, Shesha.In addition to our lack of definite knowledge about Patanjali’s life, confusion arises from contrasting appraisals of the Yoga Sutras itself. There is a strong consensus that the Yoga Sutras represents a masterly compendium of various Yoga practices which can be traced back through the Upanishads to the Vedas. Many forms of Yoga existed by the time this treatise was written, and Patanjali came at the end of a long and ancient line of yogis.

He is recognized as a truly great dancer. To this day dancers in India working in the classical traditions invoke him and pay him their respects. Patanjali, therefore, is effectively the patron saint of dance. Some say that Patanjali also wrote a treatise on ayurvedic medicine.

He was a great grammarian and his Mahabhashya or Great Commentary on Panini’s grammar (the first grammar written for any language) was magisterial. It is still read and acknowledged today. In the Mahabhashya, he defined the rules of Sanskrit grammar and greatly enlarged its vocabulary. He gave Sanskrit a muscular power that made it a more precise, subtle, effective and artistic instrument capable of expressing any aspect whatever of human thought or existence.

And importantly, he is the founder of the system of yoga and author of Yoga Sutras, the ancient text that establishes the practice and philosophy of yoga. In the Yoga Sutras-he brought many threads from the Vedas, Upanishads and Buddhism, altogether.

The Yoga of Patanjali represents the climax of a long development of yogic technology. Of all the numerous schools that existed in the opening centuries of the Common Era, Patanjali’s school was the one to become acknowledged as the authoritative system (darshana) of the Yoga tradition. There are countless parallels between Patanjali’s Yoga and Buddhism. Patanjali gave the Yoga tradition its classical format, and hence his school is often referred to as Classical Yoga. Patanjalipresentedan eight-limbed system of yoga (ashtanga)-Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi. The first Yoga Sutra says: “Now the exposition of yoga,” implying that there must be something leading up to yoga in the form of necessary developments of consciousness and personality. These prerequisites may be thought of as the Pillars of Yoga, and are known as Yama and Niyama (or Ten Commandments of Yoga).The Yoga Sutras constitutes a practitioner’s manual, and has long been cherished as the pristine expression of Raja Yoga, which is essentially concerned with mind control, meditation and self-study.The focus is on the mind.The metapsychology of the Yoga Sutras bridges complex metaphysics and compelling ethics, creative transcendence and critical immanence, in an original, inspiring and penetrating style, whilst its aphoristic method leaves much unsaid, throwing aspirants back upon themselves with a powerful stimulus to self-testing and self-discovery.

A founder of Ashtanga yoga tradition Sage Patanjali in 500 BC wrote a text containing 196 Sutras in Sanskrit which is known as Yoga Sutras. One sutra forms one statement. But the statements are in Sanskrit. Sutras are very compressed as far as meaning is concerned. So to explain and understand these Sutras, it takes lot of efforts and knowledge of Sanskrit but also understanding of the philosophy of yoga.

Yoga Sutras are divided in to four chapters.

I – Samadhi Pada – 51 Sutras.
II – Sadhana Pada – 55 Sutras.
III – Vibhuti Pada – 56 Sutras.
IV – Kaivalya Pada – 34 Sutras.
First chapter of SAMADHI PADA starts with first sutra –
Atha Yoga anushasanam ( I – 1 )
Atha means Now
anushasanam means discipline.
So the meaning is “Now is the discipline of yoga”.

Second sutra is definition of Yoga.
Yogaha chitta vritti nirodhah ( I – 2 )
chitta means mind,
vritti means modifications of mind
nirodhah means to control
Yoga is to control the modifications of mind or functioning of the mind.

Third Sutra is about ultimate achievement of Yoga.
Tada drashtuh swarupe awasthanam( I – 3 )
Tada means – after that
drashtuh means – the seer
swarupe means – state of self or soul
awasthanam means – resides
After that (Control of functioning of mind) the seer establishes himself in to true state of being.

In first chapter Patanjali explains five types of vritties (types of modifications of mind)
Also Patanjali talks about seven paths to achieve the goal of control of mind. One of these is Omkar chanting.
In the first chapter Patanjali also explains the different types of Samadhi (ultimate state of achievement in yoga).
Sabija Samadhi & Nirbija Samadhi
Sabija is further subdivided in two
Sampradnayat & Asampradnayat

Sampradnayat is further subdivided in four types
Savitarka, Savichara, Sananda, Sasmita

Nirbija Samadhi is the ultimate state of achievement in Yoga.

In the second chapter, Patanjali explains the tools and techniques to achieve the ultimate goal of Yoga. All eight parts of Ashtanga yoga are explained by Patanjali in this chapter. Yama – Social Discipline, Niyama – Self Discipline, Asana – Yoga poses, Pranayama – Breath control, Pratyahara – sense withdrawal, Dharana – concentration, Dhyana – meditation and Samadhi – self-realization are 8 steps to yoga. But in this chapter the focus is on first 5 steps.

Remaining 3 steps of Dharana – concentration, Dhyana – meditation and Samadhi – self-realization are discussed in details byt Patanjali. All three together is called Samyam. Samyam on different objects leads to different achievements which are called Siddhies (perfections).

Janmaushadhimantratapaha samadhijah sidhayaha (IV – 1 )

Ways to achieve ultimate state of Samadhi

By birth
Mantra chanting
Practicing Tapa (Austerity)
Practice of Yoga

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali are a compilation of 195 sutras (aphorisms) according to Vysa and Krishnamacharya and 196 sutras according to others, including BKS Iyengar, that discuss the theory and practice of yoga. The sage Patanjali in India collected and arranged knowledge about yoga from much older traditions to create the Yoga Sutras in the first decades CE.

Yoga Sutras of Patanjali is an important topic for the Art and Culture section in General Studies for UPSC Exam Prelims as well as Mains. We will look into the origin and main types of Yoga Sutras followed by the four pillars of knowledge and the elements of Yoga Sutra.

What is Patanjali?
The name, ‘Patanjali’ has been associated with multiple individuals from different times and places in Indian History.

The most famous ‘Patanjali’, a sage from Ancient India was the author of Mahabhasya and the compiler of Yoga Sutras. Another individual named ‘Patanjali’ was the author of Nidana-Suras and the third ‘Patanjali’ was a famous teacher of Samkhya Philosophy.

Works of Patanjali
Scholars talk about who wrote the Yoga Sutras and the Mahabhaṣya. Bhojadeva’s Rajamartanda, a book from the 10th century, and other sources say the same person wrote both.
In the Yoga Sutras, a section named after Patanjali is found, but not in the Mahabhaṣya. The idea that one person wrote everything started in the 10th century, but it’s not very likely.
The only thing written by Patanjali that talks about medicine is gone, and the Yoga Sutras and the Mahabhaṣya are very different.
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali may have had parts added as late as the fourth century C.E. It’s possible different people added them, as often happens in spoken stories.
Many scholars say both texts were “by Patanjali,” but that doesn’t mean the same person wrote them.
Two other texts, Patanjalicarita from the 16th century and an 11th-century commentary by Chakrapani Datta, mention a medical text by Patanjali called Carakapratisaṃskṛtaḥ.
This text is said to be a rewrite of a medical book by Charaka. Even though Charaka’s book talks about yoga a little bit at the end, it’s very different from Patanjali’s eightfold yoga in the Yoga Sutras and the Yogasutrabhaṣya.
It talks about a completely different type of eightfold yoga.

Origin Of Yoga Sutras Of Patanjali
The Yoga Sutras are believed to have their origin in very earlier traditions. The exact date of origin has been under discussion.

According to Edwin Bryant, the text is dated around the fourth or fifth century CE.
Michele Desmarais stated the period of its origin to range from 500 BCE to the third century CE.
The most widely accepted period by academic scholars was provided by Woods as around 400 CE.
The Yoga Sutras being the work of Patanjali, has been a subject of academic debate for quite some time. The classic text named Mahabhasya with the same author name is completely different in terms of vocabulary, grammar, and language for the Yoga Sutras. Thus, there has been a constant debate over the Yoga Sutra being the original work of Patanjali.

Main Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
Yoga has been practised since the pre-Vedic period, but Maharishi Patanjali codified the knowledge about Yoga systematically via his Yoga Sutras. The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali is a compilation of 196 sutras containing theoretical and practical knowledge about yoga. This Yoga Sutra was divided into four books or four chapters. The four chapters are as follows:

Samadhi Pada – 51 Sutras
Sadhana Pada – 55 Sutras
Vibhuti Pada – 56 Sutras
Kaivalya Pada – 34 Sutras
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali are broadly divided into the above-mentioned four chapters, i.e. Samadhi, Sadhana, Vibhuti, and Kaivalya Pada. In Buddhism, ‘Pada’ means Buddha Footprints and ‘Sutra’ means the holy text. Thus, Yoga Sutras are divided into four Pada, which in turn are divided into 196 Sutras.

Samadhi Pada
Samadhi Pada is the first chapter comprising 51 sutras focused on Enlightenment.
Samadhi is a vital technique to reach pure consciousness.
Here, a yogi’s self-identity (In categories of witness, witnessing, and witnessed) collapses into a pure form of consciousness.

Sadhana Pada
Sadhana, in the Sanskrit language, broadly translates into ‘Discipline’ or ‘Practice’.
The second chapter denotes daily spiritual practice to achieve universal oneness.
The practitioner is known as The Sadhaka, who performs Sadhana through various tools such as meditation, chanting, etc.
Here, Patanjali refers to two yoga systems i.e. Kriya Yoga and Ashtanga Yoga (‘Eight Limbed Yoga’).

Vibhuti Pada
Vibhuti, in Sanskrit, means ‘Power’ or ‘Manifestation’.
The third chapter of Yoga Sutras highlights the mind’s power in the manifestation of siddhis.
These powers play an important role in reaching the State of liberation, but in case yoga is practised with ego, then these same powers can become an obstacle to final liberation.

Kaivalya Pada
In the fourth or final chapter, Kaivalya means State of isolation or solitude.
It is the final stage of Enlightenment which is also known as Nirvana or Moksha.
Here, a yogi attains a state of full detachment from the world of particulate matter, but at the same time, he maintains a state of full awareness.
The soul becomes free of all attachments and desires to reach Kaivalya.

Patanjali Yoga Sutras: Four Pillars of Knowledge
There are four methods or modes to practice Yoga and they form the four pillars of knowledge. They are as follows:

Raja Yoga: Yoga of the Mind
This is the highest form of yogic practice and involves Introspection, self-observation, and contemplation. It is often referred to as ‘Royal Yoga’ or ‘Mental Yoga‘.

It is called Royal Yoga because the king rules a kingdom, in the same way, Raja Yoga helps us control our minds & emotions. It is referred to as ‘Mental Yoga’ as it focuses mainly on self-observation, introspection, and contemplation.

Yoga Sutras of Patanjali is the primary text that deals with Raja Yoga.

Karma Yoga: Yoga of Action and Effect
This involves following a path of Self-Transcending Action. Karma means ‘Action’ or ‘Work’.

Karma is neutral and just as natural as the law of gravity. Karma works under two aspects i.e. Internal aspect (Cause) and the External aspect (Effect). The Outcome depends on both of them and to bring change in the effect, one needs to change the internal self. Thus, one can change his Karma.

Bhakti Yoga: Yoga of Love and Devotion
Bhakti Yoga involves or defines itself as The Path of Devotion. This Yoga can transform an individual from utmost negativity to supreme pleasantness.

Bhakti Yoga is also called Path of Love and it involves choosing a greater cause than our situations. Bhakti Yoga always starts from the individual itself as one is required to love oneself for loving others.

Jnana Yoga: Yoga of Wisdom and Knowledge
Jnana Yoga is the path of knowledge and wisdom. In a literal sense, it means ‘Knowing’ and this path remains the most difficult path among all four.

The traditional practice of this yoga involves detailed study of scriptures and texts to reach the state of enlightenment through ‘Reasons’. The continuous practice of acquiring knowledge results in true wisdom which eventually leads to a state where an individual can easily differentiate illusion from reality and attain Liberation.

8 Elements of Yoga
Patanjali explained Yoga, consisting of 8 elements. These eight elements are known as Ashtanga which while practicing leads to superior consciousness.




Abstinence / Self-Regulating Behavior


Observance / Personal Training




Breath Control


Senses Withdrawal


Mind Concentration / Focus




Absorption / Union with self

Yama: These are the moral principles or the ethical vows that a practitioner is supposed to follow while performing yoga. Patanjali has also mentioned the importance of Yama to reach the state of enlightenment.

Niyama: This includes habits and behaviours. Continuous actions and personal iterations of a practitioner are vital for the yoga practice to attain its desired goals.

Asana: Asana stands for practitioner posture during yoga. Any ideal posture is not described by Patanjali in his Yoga sutras, but he states that the posture should be comfortable and motionless.

Pranayama: In the literal sense, it consists of Prana and Ayama. Prana means breathing, and Ayama means restraining, which makes it restraining the breath, i.e. changing the pace of breathing or the breathing pattern consciously.

Pratyahara: Sensory organs are our prime receptors to any external change. Pratyahara means a complete withdrawal from our sensory experiences of the external world. It is a process of self-extraction from our senses.

Dharana: Dharnana actually means ‘To hold’. Here, it means holding one’s mind on a particular subject or topic or in a particular state. It is of utmost focus on a single point without any deviation or mind drifting.

Dhyana: It is closely related to the sixth limb or sixth element of yoga. Dharana is holding the mind on a subject, and Dhyana is the process of holding the mind. Thus, Dhyana is just a contemplation of Dharana.

Samadhi: It is the final oneness between the actor (practitioner), act, and subject of yoga. Samadhi is the final element of Patanjali’s yoga.



What is Yoga Philosophy?
Philosophy can sound so dry and unrelated to the dilemmas and decisions we face everyday. In reality though philosophy can help us to understand our place in the world. Yoga philosophy is deeply woven into ancient Indian thought and ‘Yoga’ is in fact, the name of an ancient Indian school of philosophy. Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra is made up of 196 aphorisms or pithy phrases about yoga. In fact the word sutra is related to our word for suture and these are short pithy phrases without verbs. The sutras in short summarise the theory and practice of yoga.

What are Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras?
The sutras are 1600 – 1700 years old (though this is subject to some debate). They explore how to deal with the process of suffering. The sutras are both a manual for practice but also offer a theoretical understanding. The exact purpose of the compilation of the sutras has been lost, but they date from an oral tradition, so there is certainly material that may be lost to us and traditionally, the sutras would have been passed from teacher to student.

The Sutras are attributed to a sage called Patanjali. There are in fact, three ‘Patanjalis’ who compiled significant manuals to emerge from ancient India. Someone called Patanjali was also a grammarian responsible for compiling a dictionary of Sanskrit and wrote significant works around Ayurveda.

What is the best way to understand the sutras?
Traditionally students of the sutras would have worked with a teacher to gain an understanding of the sutras. However, another key feature of ancient yogic texts are the commentaries that have subsequently been written about them. The same applies today – working with a teacher and referring to the commentaries can help us to make sense of this text.

What’s in the sutras
There are four chapters (padas) in the sutras.

Samadhi pada – the first chapter is concerned with meditative bliss: in many ways this is the ultimate goal of yoga. This chapter also contains one of the best known definitions of yoga: Yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind.
The second chapter of the sutras – the sadhana pada is all about practice. This is the chapter which offers ashtanga yoga or the eight-limbed path as a way in which we can lead our lives in a way that reduces our suffering. Although meditative absorption remains the ultimate goal, Patanjali presents a number of methods in which we can prepare. These include: study, discipline and devotion. In this chapter Patanjali suggests that whilst our mind gets caught up in perceiving material states as real, an ethical approach to our life can steady our minds.
The third chapter – the vibhuti pada is concerned with attaining special powers. The chapter is concerned with ever more subtle states of meditation resulting in the attainment of special powers. Some of these seem extreme and it can be difficult to know quite how to interpret them: are they metaphors, or did ancient yogis train their minds to gain an ‘elephant’s strength’ and the ability to see into the nature of the universe and the place of the stars?
Kaivalya pada. This chapter is concerned with what happens when ‘liberation’ or kaivalya is ‘achieved’. This is when the ‘purusha’ frequently translated as the soul becomes detached or liberated from ‘prakriti’ or material life.
A Metaphysical understanding
One of the most difficult elements of the yoga sutras for us to understand from a 21st century Western perspective is its presentation of the nature of existence. The mind is seen as a part of the material world and the ultimate goal of yoga is to free the mind (and it naturally follows) the body from identifying with material existence.

Is the Yoga Sutra a religious text?
The yoga sutra certainly refers to god but is non-sectarian. There is no prescribed deity who should be the recipient of devotion but rather the power remains with the yogi for their own practice. Patanjali’s yoga sutra shares many elements with Buddhist thought.


The Yoga Sutras are a practical textbook to guide your spiritual journey of remembering who you really are. Here are some important takeaways that every Yogi should know.

The true meaning of Yoga is the union of body, mind, soul, and spirit. According to Yoga, we suffer because of the illusion of separation between our individual consciousness from Universal Consciousness or Brahman. The Yoga Sutras are a practical to guide your spiritual journey of remembering that union.

The Story of Patanjali
The Yoga Sutras were composed by a man named Patanjali. There is not much known about him, except that he was presumably Indian and lived somewhere between the second and fourth century BC. Patanjali is also credited with writing the Mahabhasya, a treatise of Sanskrit grammar and a commentary on Charaka Samhita, the basic text of Ayurveda. Whether they are the same or different people remains a scholastic argument.

Mythologically, Vishnu the maintainer of the Universe, sleeps between creations, resting on the great multi-headed serpent Anantha, floating on the Ocean of Consciousness. When Shiva Nataraj woke Vishnu with his dance of creation, Anantha asked to be born as a great teacher. Shiva granted his wish and he was born as Patanjali in the palm of the great Yogini, Gonika.

In ancient times, most teaching was done orally and students learned by way of sutras. The word sutra comes from the same root as the medical term suture, meaning to connect or hold together. When the teacher expounded on a piece of knowledge, the student would be given a short phrase that would later remind him/her of the greater body of material. This was somewhat the equivalent of modern-day cue cards.

The challenge now is that, even knowing the sutras, you can never be certain as to the greater meaning. A further story says that Patanjali himself wrote down the sutras on palm leaves but a goat ate half of them before he took the remainder to the Himalayas. Perhaps this is the origin of modern day “goat yoga.”

Sankhya is one of the ancient Indian systems of philosophy. It teaches that knowledge is the path to enlightenment. Patanjali’s great gift to the world was that he took this profound—and yet, purely intellectual—philosophy and presented it in a form that the average spiritual seeker could follow and use. A roadmap for your journey to enlightenment.

We cannot be sure exactly what Patanjali meant to tell us. His Yoga Sutras have been translated and commented on by many people over the years. The three versions which I like and use as a reference are:

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali by Alister Shearer
How To Know God by Swami Prabhavananda and Christopher Isherwood
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali by Sri Swami Satchidananda
The Yoga Sutras
The Yoga Sutras contain 196 Sutras, divided between four chapters, discussing the aims and practice of yoga, the development of yogic powers and finally, liberation. Like a gentle guiding hand, the Yoga Sutras warn you of the pitfalls on your spiritual journey and offer the means to overcome them. While there is a teaching in each Sutra, we’ll look at a few here and leave the remainder for future exploration.

In Vedic texts, it is common to encapsulate the whole teaching early in the discourse. Patanjali does this in the first few sutras, giving you the essence of what’s to come:

“Yoga is the progressive settling of the mind into silence.

When the mind is settled, we are established in our own essential state, which is unbounded consciousness.

Our essential nature is usually overshadowed by the activity of the mind”

This means: Your spiritual practice should be to look within. Your true Self lies hidden in the silence between your thoughts, beyond all limitations. However, the doubts, chaos, and confusion of your thoughts cause you to forget who you really are.

The obstacle to spiritual progress is stress, which creates fatigue, leading to doubts and causing laziness, which brings sensory attachments manifesting as delusions, which causes you to forget who you are. By being committed to your practices, you can overcome all of these.

To have a peaceful mind, you should cultivate attitudes of friendliness without jealousy toward those who are joyful; have compassion toward those who are unhappy and less fortunate; delight in and support the acts of the virtuous; and be impartial to and avoid the dramas of the impure.

The fruit of wrong action is sorrow, the fruit of right action is joy. You must take responsibility for your thoughts, words, and actions by living consciously. The Yoga Sutras are a path of purification, refinement, and surrender.

The causes of your suffering are the following:

Forgetting who you really are
Living from the ego
Clinging to pleasure and pain
Fearing death
All of these are resolved through meditation when you remember your essential nature of unbounded consciousness.

The 8 Limbs of Yoga
The Yoga Sutras contain a set of observances and practices to guide your spiritual journey. These are known as the Eight Limbs of Yoga.

1. Yama: Correct behavior toward others.

Not stealing
Not wasting energy
Abstaining from greed
2. Niyama: The principles by which you should live your own life

Spiritual observances
3. Asana: The seat of consciousness; the yogi’s seat and postures to prepare the body.

4. Pranayama: Expanding the life force through breathing exercises.

5. Pratyahara: Turning the senses inward to explore the inner universe.

6. Dharana: Effortless focused attention; training the mind to meditate.

7. Dhyana: A continuous flow, meditation perfected.

8. Samadhi: Lost or found in the Divine; unity.

The first four yamas prepare the body for the next three, which take you to the doorway of the eighth.

Dharana, Dhyana, and Samadhi practiced together is known as Sanyama. Settling the mind, having a subtle intention, and releasing it into the field of Infinite Organizing Power gives you knowledge of the laws of nature of an object and Yogic Powers (Siddhis).

The Practice of Samadhi
The practice of Samadhi is only possible when meditation is perfected. Samadhi has several levels:

Savikalpa Samadhi
You gain knowledge of physical objects.
You have an understanding the abstract nature of things.
You move beyond objects until you are only aware of bliss.
Only the I-ness remains.
Nirvikalpa Samadhi
You become one with the Soul—no mind—only infinite peace and bliss.
The heart feels bigger than the universe.
Sahaja Samadhi
The constant experience of Nirvikalpa along with daily activity.
Dharma Megha Samadhi
The highest Samadhi, the state of Unclouded Truth (Cloud of Virtue)—“All beautiful qualities are there.”
All desires, even the desire to know God, have dissolved.
All that affects the mind, the causes of suffering, and the bondage of action disappear.
We will all eventually reach the state where Pure Unbounded Consciousness remains forever established in its own Absolute nature.



Who Is The Founder Of Yoga?
Who is the founder of yoga?
Patanjali is the inventor of yoga. He is credited with writing the earliest yoga treatise, The Yoga Sutras.

He is also the namesake of an Indian consumer products firm, Patanjali Ayurved. Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra is the first and oldest yoga manual. It was likely written more than two thousand years ago.

It covers the idea and practice of yoga and how it brings more mental and physical discipline to the practitioner. According to Edwin Bryant, yoga consists mostly of meditative techniques that culminate in the attainment of a state of consciousness devoid of all active and discursive thought.

In 1896, the famous Indian philosopher Swami Vivekananda wrote his masterpiece, “Raja Yoga.” It was based on Patanjali’s “The Yoga Sutras.”

Swami Vivekananda’s work is credited with establishing Yoga Sutras as the definitive text on yoga worldwide.

Patanjali organized his yoga sutras into four chapters with 195 sutras each (Aphorisms). ‘Sutra’ in Sanskrit signifies a thread.

The 195 Sutras of Patanjali’s yoga sutras include substantial philosophical assertions expressed concisely.

The author of these sutras has attempted to convey as much information as possible in as few words as feasible.

Who is Patanjali?
Patanjali, the originator of yoga as a discipline, existed between 500 and 200 B.C. His life is little understood, and historians have been unable to develop a solid birth-to-death timeline.

There are several legends surrounding his birth. Even more, he is regarded as an incarnation of Ananta and Seshanaag.

Differing interpretations exist regarding the number of persons called Patanjali in Indian culture.

There are three notable figures in Indian history with the name Patanjali.

The initial official text on yoga, “The Yoga Sutras,” was written by a single author. He is also credited with writing a commentary on Panini’s Sanskrit grammar work, Ashtadhyayi.

The second individual was the author of the Nidana sutras, a valuable resource for Vedic study.

Patanjali, who taught Samkhya philosophy, was the third individual.

According to historians, the three persons listed above belonged to different times and were distinct individuals.

However, according to Indian tradition, all of the contributions mentioned above were made by Patanjali, the inventor of yoga.

Birth of Patanjali
Numerous tales surround the birth of Patanjali, the inventor of yoga. It is thought that he voluntarily assumed human form on earth to aid humanity).

There are several well-known traditions regarding the birth of Patanjali. The most well-known one is as follows: Patanjali is a manifestation of the god Sheshnag, according to this tale.

According to the tale, Lord Vishnu was once captivated by Lord Shiva’s dancing motions. While observing, his body began regularly moving, making it heavier. Since Lord Vishnu sat on Sheshnag, he endured great anguish.

As soon as the dance concluded, Lord Vishnu’s body regained its former lightness. Lord Sheshnag wished to discover the explanation for the metamorphosis and the dance.

Lord Vishnu informed him that Lord Shiva would provide him with this opportunity. Lord Sheshnag began pondering to determine who his mother would be when he assumed human form.

This was when he knew he would be the son of the Indian yogini Gonika, who prayed for a son.

Once, while praying to the Sun god to grant her wishes, Monika noticed a little snake in her palms. Later, this serpent assumed a human shape.

She gave him the name Patanjali, which means “one who has sunk into folded palms in prayer.”

Ashtanga, or yoga’s eight limbs
The yoga sutras of Patanjali classify yoga into eight types. These are known as Ashtanga or the eight limbs of yoga.

1) Yama: This principle emphasizes personal discipline, especially nonviolence and truthfulness.

2) Niyama: These are the practices necessary to develop one’s character.

3) Asanas: This refers to the physical aspect of yoga that involves various postures and asanas.

4) Pranayama: It involves the regulation of breath. A solid command of your breathing increases your ability to focus and general health and well-being.

5) Pratyahara

6) Dharana

7) Dhyana


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The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali are often cited in modern Yoga classes, but how much do you really know about the origin and purpose of this work of philosophy? The journey of the Yoga Sutras (including the 8 Limbs) from ancient India to the Yoga studios of today offers more than a few surprises.

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali is often cited as the philosophical counterpart to today’s physical yoga practices. The implication is that the two were passed down together through the ages hand in hand, but it won’t surprise anyone who has researched the history of yoga asana to find out that that’s not really the case. Just as most of the yoga poses we routinely practice date back no further than the last century, the yoking of hatha yoga and Patanjali’s famous text is also a relatively recent phenomenon. However, this revelation doesn’t mean that these two things don’t work well together in the present. By delving into what we do know about the history of the Yoga Sutras we can learn a lot about how yoga introduced to the Western world.

We don’t have that much information about the actual Patanjali. Scholars date his lifetime to some time in the first through fourth centuries of the Common Era. He wrote the sutras in what is called “Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit,” rather than classical Sanskrit, which may indicate a Buddhist influence in the work. The author of the Yoga Sutras was probably not a half-man, half-multi-headed serpent. That was a different Patanjali, a mythical god, however, the two have been conflated at times, including in the opening invocations used in both Iyengar and Ashtanga practices.

The Yoga Sutras (which means strings) are 195 aphorisms about a philosophy that was called Yoga at the time. It’s important to note that the word ‘Yoga’ has been used for multiple purposes in different contexts and historical settings and has a variety of meanings in Sanskrit. It’s most common contemporary definition, union, is only one possibility. The Yoga of Patanjali is more aptly translated as concentration or, as Barbara Stoler Miller does, discipline. As a philosophy, Yoga examines the human spirit’s relationship to the material world and how the spirit might be freed from suffering through discipline and introspection. It has very little to say about postural practice, as we will see.

The sutras are dense and abstruse, both in their language and their content, so they are most often accompanied by an explanatory commentary. This was true even in ancient times. The first commentary, credited to Vyasa (which means editor), was possibly written by a near contemporary of Patanjali, suggesting that his verses were not a lot clearer to readers in his own time than they are now. Vyasa’s interpretation introduces some vocabulary and themes that are not present in the original work, in particular, several that pertain to a closely related philosophical system of the day, Samkhya. This commentary has had a strong and lasting effect on the interpretation of the Yoga Sutras up to the present day.

Samkhya and Yoga are both Dualistic systems that recognize a difference between Spirit (Purusha) and Matter (Prakriti). Salvation, which is the goal of both systems, is achieved when a person is freed from the cycle of death and rebirth by the realization that their Spirit is pure consciousness and therefore not tethered to the material world. In Samkhya, this is achieved through a process of rational inquiry into the nature of matter, while in Yoga the same result is reached through deep meditation.

Patanjali’s Yoga is referred to in some ancient texts as Samkhya with Ishvara. Like many Sanskrit terms in the Yoga Sutras, the word Ishvara can be interpreted in several ways. It could mean God or it could mean a master or expert teacher. In the Yogic system, dedication to Ishvara is one of the preconditions to liberation, while in Samkhya it is not.

Perhaps the biggest misconception about Patanjali’s work is that it provides guidance for achieving union with the divine in order to reach a place of enlightenment. In his biography, David Gordon White explains that both Yoga and Samkhya actually propose absolute separation between Spirit and Matter as the state that will provide freedom from suffering. The enduring perception that union is yoga’s highest state was introduced via influential commentaries on the Yoga Sutras much later.

Patanjali’s explanation of an eight-limbed (the Sanskrit word is ashtanga, from which the yoga style of Sri K. Pattabhi Jois takes its name) path is the part of the Yoga Sutras that is most prevalent in modern practice. The description of the eight limbs is a very small section, comprising just 31 out of the 195 verses. In ancient times, this portion was considered the least significant part of the work. It is perhaps the very practicality and explication of a route that leads toward liberation from life’s inherent suffering within this otherwise very dense philosophical text that appeals to modern practitioners.

The first two limbs outline moral principles and observances that prepare a practitioner for the profound inner work to come. The next three limbs are quite practical in nature: sit, breathe, withdraw from sensory stimulation. One of these practical limbs is asana, which in this context simply meant posture. The only sutra that directly refers to asana is ‘sthira sukham asanam’, which Miller translates as ‘The posture of yoga is steady and easy’. In order to enter into meditation, it is necessary to assume a posture that is easy to maintain.

The final three limbs describe a deepening meditative state, culminating in samadhi (pure contemplation), in which the person becomes one with the object of their meditation. This is the goal of the eight limbs, however, this is actually not the end of the process of transformation. Patanjali describes a further state, nirbija-samadhi, which Miller translates as ‘seedless contemplation’. This is the complete separation of Spirit and Matter, which results in the liberation of the Spirit.

Once freed, the Spirit has the power to extend everywhere, giving it what we would call supernatural powers, such as invisibility, the ability to enter other bodies, and the power to travel through time and space. When the complete separation of Purusha and Prakriti is realised, the spirit transcends the material world.

Patanjali’s work enjoyed some popularity around the time of its creation and again in the 10th and 11th centuries, as evidenced by the existence of translations from that time into two other ancient languages for broader dissemination. However, by around 1200 CE, the Yoga Sutras had fallen out of common use, only to be rediscovered in the early 1800s.

White explains that, in an attempt to codify a traditional Hindu set of laws so that they could be applied to the indigenous population, the British colonial government in India fostered a surge of Sanskrit scholarship. This led to a rediscovery of Patanjali’s work, which then came to be embraced and promoted by two influential voices in the adoption of yoga in the West: The Theosophical Society of Madame Blavatsky and Swami Vivekananda.

The Theosophical Society, whose members viewed India as the original source of human spirituality, published several of the earliest English language translations of the Yoga Sutras, beginning in 1885, with the aim of popularizing the ancient wisdom of Indian mysticism. Their translations allowed Patanjali’s work to reach a much wider audience.

Vivekananda, who played a dominant role in advancing the interest in Indian philosophy and yoga in the United States around the turn of the 20th century, also did much to make the Yoga Sutras more available. In 1896, he published Raja Yoga, which became hugely popular and soon gained an international readership. The book is divided into two parts, the first being transcriptions of Vivekananda’s lectures on the subject of the eight-part practice and the second a translation and commentary of the full Yoga Sutras.

It is through Vivekananda’s lens that many of our contemporary misconceptions about the Yoga Sutras are filtered because the Swami had an agenda to further with his intended audience, namely to establish Indian thought as the primary source for Western philosophy, science, and spirituality. Vivekananda made this esoteric work more accessible, but, as White writes, he may have ‘succeeded at the expense of accuracy’. For instance, Vivekananda’s commentary also includes the nadis and chakras (from Tantra Yoga) as well as pranayama and kundalini practices (from Tantra, Hatha, and the Puranas).

Given this context, it is not surprising that Patanjali’s work is now associated with many concepts popular in modern yoga that are, in fact, not present in the original work. In particular, the idea that the culmination of the eight-part practice results in union with the divine is a concept from the Puranas, not the Yoga Sutras. Although Vivekananda was not the first to introduce these inconsistencies into his interpretation of the Yoga Sutras, the success of his version ensured that they have endured.

The marriage of Patanjali’s work of philosophy with asana can be traced to T. Krishnamacharya (1888-1989), who has been called the father of modern yoga. Krishnamacharya’s legacy has been profound, as he was the teacher of three of contemporary yoga’s most prominent disseminators: Ashtanga Yoga founder Pattabhi Jois, B.K.S. Iyengar, and Krishnamacharya’s own son, T.K.V. Desikachar, who founded Viniyoga. Indra Devi, who brought yoga to Hollywood, was another notable student.

The story of Krishnamacharya’s life has been at least somewhat mythologized. He professed to have received his hatha yoga training while living in a cave in Tibet (or Nepal) for seven years with his guru and also through an ancient book called the Yoga Korunta, which he personally discovered in a library in Calcutta and that was later mysteriously eaten by ants. In his book Yoga Body, Mark Singleton’s research reveals that vinyasa yoga’s emergence was also heavily indebted to 19th century’s international physical culture movement and the British colonial military’s calesthentics routines.

As to Krishnamacharya’s later introduction of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali as the philosophical underpinning of this new type of yoga, Singleton suggests that it was a pragmatic way to legitimize vinyasa practice by linking it to a more ancient Indian tradition. Thanks to Vivekananda’s Raja Yoga, the Yoga Sutras could be counted on to bestow an aura of authenticity, not to mention science, health, and spirituality, to this burgeoning style of asana.

Other yoga styles that were developing concurrently with the Krishnamacharya lineage likewise seem to have applied the Yoga Sutras retroactively. Swami Sivananda, for instance, mentions Patanjali only in passing in his early writing. However, Sivananda’s disciples, notably Integral Yoga founder Swami Satchidinanada, later fully incorporated the Yoga Sutras into their teaching.

Knowing more about how and why yoga developed the way it did doesn’t discredit a contemporary version of the teachings. The interpretation of philosophy, just like asana, must be allowed to evolve to suit the modern yogi or else it will become obsolete.

Perhaps the best known of the sutras is the second one: yoga citta vritti nirodha. While each of these words has a number of possible translations, Miller’s is ‘Yoga is the cessation of the turnings of thought’. Although Patanjali was almost certainly not talking about the effects of the physical practice as we know it, this definition is a very apt description of the effect yoga asana has on the mind. Perhaps the Yoga Sutras continue to be taught today because they continue to resonate with us, regardless of their indirect route to the mat.

Patanjali (Devana-gari) is the compiler of the Yoga Sutra, one of the most revolutionary works in the history of yoga philosophy. He has often been called the founder of yoga because of his work, but in reality, he is more of a figurehead and compiler of sutras passed down through generations of teachers and students.

Ancient texts often refer to Patanjali as an incarnation of the serpent God Ananta, and he is sometimes depicted as half human and half serpent. He is said to have fallen (Pat) from heaven into the open palms (Anjali) of a woman, hence the name Patanjali.

Virtually nothing is known about the life of Patanjali and some scholars believe he is entirely mythical. Various references suggest he lived between 200 BC and 400 AD – though several texts date him back several thousand years before this.

Patanjali’s yoga is one of the six schools of Hindu philosophy. They give us the earliest reference to the popular term Ashtanga Yoga which translates literally as the eight limbs of yoga. They are yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana and samadhi. Read the highlights from the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali here.

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​​​​​​​Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras
Sage Patanjali, a scholar of the Hindu belief system, elaborated the transcendental aspects of yogic theory in his Yoga Sutras, and thus added to the priceless repertoire of knowledge that existed about spiritual awakening promised by yogic discipline. While the history of yoga goes far back in time, the physical aspects of the yogic practice were first detailed by sage Patanjali sometime between 400 and 500 CE.

His work, the Yoga Sutras, are widely known for the information they contain about asanas or the physical component of yoga centred around postures. In line with the Hindu belief system, he saw that wellbeing was necessary for the physical, mental and spiritual domains. The Yoga Sutras see physical wellbeing as instrumental to the pursuit of spiritual wisdom.

Patanjali – The Father of Modern YogaYogi and mystic Sadhguru explores the incredible life and capabilities of Patanjali, the father of modern yoga and the author of the celebrated yoga sutras.
Yogi and mystic Sadhguru explores the incredible life and capabilities of Patanjali, the father of modern yoga and the author of the celebrated yoga sutras.
Sadhguru: If you look at Patanjali, as an enlightened being, he can’t be more enlightened than someone else. There is no such thing. Realization is realization. But as a man and above all as an intellect, he is such an intellect that the great scientists of today look like kindergarten children in front of him. The breadth of his understanding of life is so big that you cannot believe that this is possible in one human being. In his mastery of language, mathematics and in his perception of astronomy, he is so fantastic. Today’s scholars argue that this is not one man’s work, that many people must have worked to make this happen because it is so big, it cannot fit into one man’s intellect. It is one man’s work. He is probably one of the greatest intellects ever on this planet.

He is known as the father of modern yoga. He did not invent yoga. Yoga was already there in various forms, which he assimilated into a system. Shiva, the Adiyogi or first yogi, transmitted yoga to the Sapta Rishis or the seven sages many thousands of years ago. He had the highest understanding of human nature, but he didn’t put anything down in writing. He was too wild to be a scholar. He found it was too difficult to put everything he knew into one person, so he chose seven people and put different aspects of yoga into them. These became the seven basic forms of yoga. Even today, though these have branched off into hundreds of systems, yoga has still maintained seven distinct forms.

The Yoga Sutras
Patanjali came much later and sort of assimilated everything. He saw that it was getting too diversified and complex for anyone to understand in any meaningful way. So he assimilated and included all aspects into a certain format – as the Yoga Sutras.

He just understood humanity inside out – not as people but as a total mechanism of the human body, mind, consciousness…
Sutra literally means a thread. Or in modern language we can say it is like a formula. Anyone who knows the English alphabet, even a kindergarten child can say E=mc², but there is an enormous amount of science behind that little formula, which most people do not understand. The sutras are like this, in thread form. Out of ignorance, people have just taken these sutras and are trying to implement it as it is. A thread is of no consequence by itself. There can never be a garland without the thread but no one ever wears a garland for the sake of the thread. The thread was given so that each master makes his own kind of garland. You can put flowers on it, or beads or pearls or diamonds. The thread is vital but that is not a goal by itself.


Get to Know Patanjali: A Founding Father of Yoga
Patanjali was more than just his suttras. We uncover some of mystery surrounding this iconic yogi.

When we speak about yoga practice, the foundation we always come back to is Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra, a compilation of 196 cryptic verses that outline the eight limbs of yoga.

The sutras provide yogis with guidance toward leading a yogic lifestyle and cultivating mindfulness. But just who was this mystery sage?

No one knows exactly when Patanjali lived.
Rumor has it that the sutras were written some 1,700 years ago, but this has been widely debated by practitioners, scholars and teachers alike. Some believe that Patanjali lived in the second or third century CE; others claim it was the 4th century CE; still, others posit that it was about 50 CE. While some believe that the sage wrote the sutras around 400 BCE—which is the most widely accepted date, others still insist that they were written 5,000 years ago. Most of the speculations are made in correspondence with other texts of these periods, as well as the notion that Patanjali himself had written other works on Ayurveda and Sanskrit over the course of many centuries. There is really no way to know which time period is accurate, so we can all agree to disagree.

Patanjali was most likely not just one person.
It is widely disputed whether Patanjali was one man, or if the sutras attributed to him are actually a compilation of ideas from many sages and practitioners. (Think: the Vedic Shakespeare.) A man named Patanjali has been credited with two other texts as well, one on Sanskrit grammar (Mahabhashya) and one on medicine (Charakapratisanskrita). Because of the widely debated time frame of Patanjali’s life, it is posited that the surname Patanjali refers to a lineage of many sages, teachers, and students, and we refer to him as one man for convenience’s sake.

There are many myths in circulation about Patanjali’s life, one of which depicts the sage as a snake falling from heaven.
Being a figure of great mystery, there are numerous myths about how Patanjali came into being. As one story goes, Lord Vishnu was once sitting atop Lord Adisesa, the Lord of Serpents, watching the dance of Lord Shiva when his body began to vibrate in rhythm with Shiva’s. This passing of vibrations and grace enchanted Lord Adisesa, who decided that he would devote himself to the art of dance. Lord Adisesa meditated in the hopes of determining who would be his mother and had a vision of Gonika, a virgin yogini who was praying for a son onto whom she could pass her knowledge. She prayed to the Sun, and when she opened her palms she saw a small snake that soon transformed into a small male form. Hence he was named Patanjali, for Pata means falling and Anjali refers to the prayer mudra.

Patanjali’s sutras were not written for intellectual speculation and debate but as practical methods of raising awareness.
Before Patanjali wrote the sutras, it was customary for practitioners to memorize them in their entirety. The sutras act as guidelines that can only be understood through personal experience and practice. They are a path by which we may achieve liberation of the mind.

The sutras are short and sweet for a reason.
As per Sanskrit grammar rules, a sutra should follow the following conditions:

Alpaaksharam – small in size
Asandgdham – clear and free from doubts
Saaravat – deep in meaning
Viswatomukham – universal applicability
Astobham – practicability
Anavadwayam – the subject must be a reality
The mysteries surrounding the core text of yoga will remain forever unknown. We can learn from the ambiguity of the Yoga Sutras’ attribution, realizing that we are a small part of a greater and ever-evolving fabric. We attribute our understanding of yoga to our teachers, and to their teachers, dating back to the origin of this practice, in as much as we learn from our own experience of it. Perhaps Patanjali was a man who wrote down teachings that had been passed down to him. Perhaps he is a conceptual founder who is part of a greater fabric of thought that was developed over centuries. The transcendence of the individual, bodily form of Patanjali seems fitting, as through practice of yogic traditions we are able to transcend the limitations of the individual self.


Who Was Patanjali and Why Is He Important to Yoga?
What we know about Patanjali, the sage who wrote the Yoga Sutras.
Who Was Patanjali, the Sage Behind the Yoga Sutra?
The truth is that nobody really knows much about Patanjali. We don’t even know exactly when the sage lived. Some practitioners believe he lived around the second century BCE and also wrote significant works on Ayurveda (the ancient Indian system of medicine) and Sanskrit grammar, making him something of a Renaissance man.

But based on their analyses of the language and the teaching of the sutras, modern scholars place Patanjali in the second or third century CE and ascribe the medical essays and grammar to various other “Patanjalis.”

You Might Have Heard a Myth or Two About Patanjali’s Birth
Like many tales about the world’s spiritual heroes, the story of Patanjali’s birth has assumed mythic dimensions. One version relates that in order to teach yoga on earth, he fell from heaven in the form of a little snake, into the upturned plans (a gesture known as anjali) of his virgin mother, Gonika, herself a powerful yogini. He’s regarded as an incarnation of the thousand-headed serpent-king named Remainder (Shesha) or Endless (Ananta), whose coils are said to support the god Vishnu.

Pantanjali Might Have Been Several People
It seems odd to us, in this time of superstar teachers with their eponymous schools of So-and-So Yoga, that so little is known about Patanjali.

But anonymity is typical of the great sages of ancient India. They recognized that their teaching was the outcome of a cooperative group effort that spanned several generations, and they refused to take credit for themselves, often attributing their work to some other, older teacher.


The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
The tradition of Patañjali in the oral and textual tradition of the Yoga Sūtras is accepted by traditional Vedic schools as the authoritative source on Yoga, and it retains this status in Hindu circles into the present day. In contrast to its modern Western transplanted forms, Yoga essentially consists of meditative practices culminating in attaining a state of consciousness free from all modes of active or discursive thought, and of eventually attaining a state where consciousness is unaware of any object external to itself, that is, is only aware of its own nature as consciousness unmixed with any other object. This state is not only desirable in its own right, but its attainment guarantees the practitioner freedom from every kind of material pain or suffering, and, indeed, is the primary classical means of attaining liberation from the cycle of birth and death in the Indic soteriological traditions, that is, in the theological study of salvation in India. The Yoga Sūtras were thus seen by all schools, not only as the orthodox manual for guidance in the techniques and practices of meditation, but also for the classical Indian position on the nature and function of mind and consciousness, for the mechanisms of action in the world and consequent rebirth, and for the metaphysical underpinnings and description of the attainment of mystical powers.

1. Background and Author
In terms of literary sources, there is evidence as early as the oldest Vedic text, the Ṛg Veda (c. 1200 – c. 1500 B.C.E.), that there were yogī-like ascetics on the margins of the Vedic world. In terms of the archaeological record, seals found in Indus Valley sites (c. 3000 – c. 1500 B.C.E.) with representations of figures seated in a clear yogic posture (the most famous figure is seated in padmāsana, lotus pose, with arms extended and resting on the knees in a classical meditative posture), suggest that, irrespective of its literary origins, Yoga has been practiced on the Indian subcontinent for well over 4000 years. However, it is in the late Vedic age, marked by the fertile speculations expressed in a genre of texts called the Upaniṣads (c. 800 – c. 600 B.C.E.), that practices that can be clearly related to classical Yoga are first articulated in literary sources.

While the Upaniṣads are especially concerned with jñāna, or understanding Brahman, the Absolute Truth, through the cultivation of knowledge, there are also several unmistakable references to a technique for realizing Brahman (in its localized aspect of ātman) called Yoga. As with the Upaniṣads in general, we do not find a systematic philosophy here, but mystico-poetic utterances, albeit profound in content (Kaṭha Upaniṣad VI.11–18; Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad II.8–15; Maitrī Upaniṣad VI.18). The Mahābhārata Epic, which is the largest literary epic in the world, also preserves significant material representing the evolution of Yoga, indeed, the term “yoga” and “yogī” occur about 900 times throughout the Epic. Usually dated somewhere between the 9th–4th centuries C.E., the Epic exhibits the transition between the origins of Yoga in the Upaniṣadic period and its expression in the systematized traditions of Yoga as represented in the classical period by Patañjali. Nestled in the middle of the Epic, the well-known Bhagavad Gītā (c. 4th century B.C.E.), devotes a good portion of its bulk to the practices of Yoga, which it considers to be “ancient” (IV.3).

This, of course, indicates that practices associated with Yoga had gained wide currency in the centuries prior to the common era, with a clearly identifiable set of basic techniques and generic practices, and we will here simply allude to the fact that scholars have long pointed out a commonality of vocabulary, and concepts between the Yoga Sūtras (YS) and Buddhist texts. All this underscores the fact that there was a cluster of numerous interconnected and cross-fertilizing variants of meditational Yoga – Buddhist and Jain as well as Hindu – prior to Patañjali, all drawn from a common but variegated pool of terminologies, practices and concepts (and, indeed, many strains continue to the present day). Of closer relevance to the Sūtras is the fact that the history of Yoga is inextricable from that of the Sāṁkhya tradition. Sāṁkhya provides the metaphysical infrastructure for Yoga (discussed in the section on metaphysics), and thus is indispensable to an understanding of Yoga. While both Yoga and Sāṁkhya share the same metaphysics and the common goal of liberating puruṣa from its encapsulation, their methods differ.

Sāṁkhya occupies itself with the path of reasoning to attain liberation, specifically concerning itself with the analysis of the manifold ingredients of prakṛti from which the puruṣa was to be extricated, and Yoga more with the path of meditation, focusing its attention on the nature of mind and consciousness, and the techniques of concentration in order to provide a practical method through which the puruṣa can be isolated and extricated. Sāṁkhya seems to have been perhaps the earliest philosophical system to have taken shape in the late Vedic period, and has permeated almost all subsequent Hindu traditions; indeed the classical Yoga of Patañjali has been seen as a type of neo-Sāṁkhya, updating the old Sāṁkhya tradition to bring it into conversation with the more technical philosophical traditions that had emerged by the 3–5th centuries C.E., particularly Buddhist thought. In fact, Sāṁkhya and Yoga should not be considered different schools until a very late date: the first reference to Yoga itself as a distinct school seems to be in the writings of Śaṅkara in the 9th century C.E. Yoga and Sāṁkhya in the Upaniṣads and Epic simply refer to the two distinct paths of salvation by meditation and salvation by knowledge, respectively.

One might add, as an aside, that from the 900-odd references to Yoga in the Mahābhārata, there are only two mentions of āsana, posture, the third limb of Patañjali’s system. Neither the Upaniṣads nor the Gītā mention posture in the sense of stretching exercises and bodily poses (the term is used as “seat” rather than bodily postures), and Patañjali himself only dedicates three brief sūtras from his text to this aspect of the practice. The reconfiguring, presentation and perception of Yoga as primarily or even exclusively āsana in the sense of bodily poses, then, is essentially a modern Western phenomenon and finds no precedent in the premodern Yoga tradition. From this rich and fertile post-Vedic context, then, emerged an individual called Patañjali whose systematization of the heterogeneous practices of Yoga came to be authoritative for all subsequent practitioners and his system eventually reified into one of the six schools of classical Indian philosophy. It is important to stress here that Patañjali is not the founder or inventor of Yoga, the origins of which, as noted above, had long preceded him in primordial and mythic times. Patañjali systematized the preexisting traditions and authored what came to be the seminal text for Yoga discipline. There was never one uniform school of Yoga, or Ur-Yoga (or of any Indic school of thought for that matter): there was a plurality of variants, and certainly different conceptualizations of meditative practices that were termed Yoga. For example, while Patañjali organizes his system into eight limbs, and the Mahābhārata, too, speaks of Yoga as having eight “qualities” (aṣṭaguṇita, XII.304.7), as early as in the Maitrī Upaniṣad of the 2nd century B.C.E., there is reference to a six-limbed Yoga (VI.18), as there is in the Viṣṇu Purāṇa (VI.7.91). Along similar lines, there are various references to the twelve yogas and seven dhāraṇās (dhāraṇā is considered the sixth of Patañjali’s limbs) found in the Epic Mahābhārata. Yoga is thus best understood as a cluster of techniques, some more and some less systematized, that pervaded the landscape of ancient India. These overlapped and were incorporated into the various traditions of the day such as the jñāna, knowledge-based traditions, providing these systems with a practical method and technique for attaining an experienced-based transformation of consciousness. Patañjali’s particular systematization of these techniques was in time to emerge as the most dominant, but by no means exclusive, version.

Indeed, internal to his own text, in his very first sūtra, atha yoga anuśāsanam, Patañjali indicates that he is continuing the teachings of Yoga (the verbal prefix anu indicates the continuation of the action denoted by the verb), and the traditional commentators certainly perceive him in this light. In point of fact, the tradition itself ascribes the actual origins of Yoga to the legendary figure Hiraṇyagarbha. Moreover, evidence that Patañjali was addressing an audience already familiar with the tenets of Yoga can be deduced from the Yoga Sūtras themselves. For example, on occasion, Patañjali will mention one member of a list of items followed by “etc.,”, thereby assuming his audience to be familiar with the remainder of the list. But, in short, because he produced the first systematized treatise on the subject, Patañjali was to become the prime or seminal figure for the Yoga tradition after his times, and was accepted as such by other schools. To all intents and purposes, his Yoga Sūtras were to become the canon for the mechanics of generic Yoga, so to speak, that other systems tinkered with, and flavored with their own theological trappings.

As with the reputed founders of the other schools of thought, very little is known about Patañjali himself. Tradition, first evidenced in the commentary of Bhoja Rāja in the 11th century C.E., considers him to be the same Patañjali who wrote the primary commentary on the famous grammar by Pāṇini, and also ascribes to him authorship of a treatise on medicine. There is an ongoing discussion amongst scholars as to whether this was likely or not, but there is not much to be gained by challenging the evidence of traditional accounts in the absence of alternative evidence to the contrary that is uncontroversial or at least adequately compelling.

Patañjali’s date can only be inferred from the content of the text itself. Unfortunately, as with most classical Sanskrit texts from the ancient period, early Sanskrit texts tend to be impossible to date with accuracy, and there are always dissenters against whatever dates become standard in academic circles. Most scholars seem to date the text shortly after the turn of the common era, (c. 1st – c. 2nd century C.E.), but it has been placed as early as several centuries before the common era. Other than the fact that the text does not postdate the 5th century C.E., the date of the Yoga Sūtras cannot be determined with exactitude.

The Sūtra writing style is that used by the philosophical schools of ancient India (thus we have Vedānta Sūtras, Nyāya Sūtras, etc.). The term “sūtra,” (from the Sanskrit root sū, cognate with “sew”) literally means a thread, and essentially refers to a terse and pithy philosophical statement in which the maximum amount of information is packed into the minimum amount of words. Knowledge systems were handed down orally in ancient India, and thus source material was kept minimal partly with a view to facilitating memorization. Being composed for oral transmission and memorization, the Yoga Sūtras, and sūtra traditions in general, allowed the student to “thread together” in memory the key ingredients of the more extensive body of material with which the student would become thoroughly acquainted. Thus, each sūtra served as a mnemonic device to structure the teachings and facilitate memorization, almost like a bullet point that would then be elaborated upon.

This very succinctness – the Yoga Sūtras contain about 1200 words in 195 sūtras – and the fact that the sūtras are in places cryptic, esoteric and incomprehensible in their own terms points to the fact that they served as manuals to be used in conjunction with a teacher. Therefore, it is an unrealistic (if not impossible) task to attempt to bypass commentary in the hope of retrieving some original pure, pre-commentarial set of Ur-interpretations

Knowledge systems in ancient Indian were transmitted orally, from master to disciple, with an enormous emphasis on fidelity towards the original set of Sūtras upon which the system is founded, the master unpacking the dense and truncated aphorisms to the students. Periodically, teachers of particular prominence wrote commentaries on the primary texts of many of these knowledge systems. Some of these gained wide currency to the point that the primary text was always studied in conjunction with a commentary, particularly since texts such as the Yoga Sūtras were designed to be unpacked because they contain numerous sūtras that are incomprehensible without further elaboration. One cannot overstress, therefore, that our understanding of Patañjali’s text is completely dependent on the interpretations of later commentators: it is incomprehensible, in places, in its own terms.

In terms of the overall accuracy of the commentaries there is an a priori likelihood that the interpretations of the Sūtras were faithfully preserved and transmitted orally through the few generations from Patañjali until the first commentary by Vyāsa in the 5th Century C.E. Certainly, the commentators from Vyāsa onwards are remarkably consistent in their interpretations of the essential metaphysics of the system for over fifteen hundred years, which is in marked contrast with the radical differences in essential metaphysical understanding distinguishing commentators of the Vedānta school (a Rāmānuja or a Madhva from a Śaṅkara, for example). While the 15th century commentator Vijñānabhikṣu, for example, may not infrequently quibble with the 9th century commentator Vācaspati Miśra, the differences generally are in detail, not essential metaphysical elements. And while Vijñānabhikṣu may inject a good deal of Vedāntic concepts into the basic dualism of the Yoga system, this is generally an addition (conspicuous and identifiable) to the system rather than a reinterpretation of it. There is thus a remarkably consistent body of knowledge associated with the Yoga school for the best part of a millennium and a half, and consequently one can speak of “the traditional understanding” of the Sūtras in the premodern period without overly generalizing or essentializing.

The first extant commentary by the legendary Vyāsa, typically dated to around the 4–5th century C.E., was to attain a status almost as canonical as the primary text by Patañjali himself. Consequently, the study of the Yoga Sūtras has always been embedded in the commentary that tradition attributes to this greatest of literary figures. Practically speaking, when we speak of the philosophy of Patañjali, what we really mean (or should mean) is the understanding of Patañjali according to Vyāsa: it is Vyāsa who determined what Patañjali’s abstruse Sūtras meant, and all subsequent commentators elaborated on Vyāsa. The Vyāsa Bhāṣya (commentary) becomes inseparable from the Sūtras; an extension of it. From one sūtra of a few words, Vyāsa might write several lines of comment without which the sūtra remains incomprehensible. Vyāsa’s commentary, the Bhāṣya, thus attains the status of canon, and is almost never questioned by any subsequent commentator. Subsequent commentators base their commentaries on unpacking Vyāsa’s Bhāṣya – rarely critiquing it, but rather expanding or elaborating upon it. It is this point of reference that produces a marked uniformity in the interpretation of the Sūtras in the pre-modern period.

The next commentary is called the Vivaraṇa, attributed to the great Vedāntin Śaṅkara in the 8th – 9th century C.E. It has remained unresolved since it was first questioned in 1927 whether the commentary on the Yoga Sūtras assigned to Śaṅkara is authentically penned by him. The next best known commentator is Vācaspati Miśra, whose commentary, the Tattvavai Śāradī, can be dated with more security to the 9th century C.E. Vācaspati Miśra was a prolific intellectual, penning important commentaries on the Vedānta, Sāṁkhya, Nyāya and Mīmāṁsā schools in addition to his commentary on the Yoga Sūtras, and was noteworthy for his ability to present each tradition in its own terms, without displaying any overt personal predilection.

A fascinating Arabic translation of Patañjali’s Sūtras was undertaken by the famous Arab traveler and historian al-Bīrunī (973–1050 C.E.), the manuscript of which was discovered in Istanbul in the 1920’s. Roughly contemporaneous with al-Bīrunī is the 11th century King Bhoja, poet, scholar and patron of the arts, sciences and esoteric traditions, in whose commentary, called the Rājamārtaṇ∂a, there are on occasion very valuable insights to be found. In the 15th century, Vijñānabhikṣu wrote a most insightful and useful commentary after that of Vyāsa’s, the Yogavārttika. Vijñānabhikṣu was another prolific scholar, noteworthy for his attempt to harmonize Vedānta and Sāṁkhya concepts. In the 16th century C.E., another Vedāntin, Rāmānanda Sarasvatī, wrote his commentary, called Yogamaṇiprabhā, which also adds little to the previous commentaries. But there are valuable insights contained in the Bhāsvatī by Hariharānanda Āraṇya, written in Bengali, from a context nearer our own times, a standpoint exposed to Western thought, but still thoroughly grounded in tradition. While many other commentaries have been written, these are the primary commentaries written in the pre-modern era. The commentaries written in the modern period, many of which have made massive adjustments to modernity or the sensitivities of the Western market, are beyond the scope of this discussion, which limits itself to classical Yoga philosophy.

The Yoga Sūtras is divided into four padas, chapters. The first, samādhi pāda, defines Yoga as the complete cessation of all active states of mind, and outlines various stages of insight that stem from this. The chapter points to the ultimate goal of Yoga, which is content-less awareness, beyond even the most supreme stages of insight. The second, sādhana pāda, outlines the various practices, and moral and ethical observances that are preliminary requirements to serious meditative practice. The third, vibhūti pada, primarily deals with various super-normal powers that can accrue to the practitioner when the mind is in extreme states of concentration. There seems to have been a widespread culture in ancient India of engaging in Yoga-like practices but not in pursuit of the real goal of Yoga as defined by Patañjali, but rather in quest of such super-normal powers; this chapter can be read as Patañjali’s warning against being side-tracked in this way. The fourth, kaivalya pāda deals with liberation, and, amongst other things, contains Patañjali’s response to the Buddhist challenge.

2. Metaphysics
As noted, Yoga is not to be considered as a school distinct from Sāṁkhya until well after Patañjali’s time, but rather as a different approach or method towards enlightenment, although there are minor differences. Sāṁkhya provides the metaphysical or theoretical basis for the realization of puruṣa, and Yoga the technique or practice itself. While the Yoga tradition does not agree with the Sāṁkhya view that metaphysical analysis, that is, jñāna, knowledge, constitutes a sufficient path towards enlightenment in and of itself the metaphysical presuppositions of the Yoga system assume those of Sāṁkhya. Leaving aside the numerous variants of Sāṁkhya (the Chinese Buddhist pilgrim Hsöen Tsang’s disciple in the 7th century C.E. reports 18 schools, and the loss of the earlier material, the later Sāṁkhya Kārikā of Iśvarakṛṣṇa (4th–5th century C.E.), has by default become the seminal text of the tradition, just as Patañjali’s Yoga Sūtras has for the Yoga tradition.

In the generic Sāṁkhya (literally “numeration”) system, the universe of animate and inanimate entities is perceived as ultimately the product of two ontologically distinct categories; hence this system is quintessentially dvaita, or dualistic in presupposition. These two categories are prakṛti, or the primordial material matrix of the physical universe, and puruṣa, the innumerable conscious selves embedded within it. As a result of the interaction between these two entities, the material universe evolves in a series of stages. The actual catalysts in this evolutionary process are the three guṇas, literally “strands” or “qualities,” which are inherent in prakṛti. These are: sattva, “lucidity;” rajas, “action;” and tamas, “inertia.” These guṇas are sometimes compared to the threads which underpin the existence of a rope; just as a rope is actually a combination of threads, so all manifest reality actually consists of a combination of the guṇas.

Given the meditative focus of the text, the guṇas are especially significant to Yoga in terms of their psychological manifestation; in Yoga, the mind and therefore all psychological dispositions, are prakṛti, and therefore also comprised of the guṇas – the only difference between mind and matter being that the former has a larger preponderance of sattva, and the latter of tamas. Therefore, according to the specific intermixture and proportionality of the guṇas, living beings exhibit different types of mindsets and psychological dispositions. Thus, when sattva is predominant in an individual, the qualities of lucidity, tranquility, wisdom, discrimination, detachment, happiness, and peacefulness manifest; when rajas is predominant, hankering, attachment, energetic endeavor, passion, power, restlessness and creative activity; and when tamas, the guṇa least favorable for yoga, is predominant, ignorance, delusion, disinterest, lethargy, sleep, and disinclination towards constructive activity.

The guṇas are continually interacting and competing with each other, one guṇa becoming prominent for a while and overpowering the others, only to be eventually dominated in turn by the increase of one of the other guṇas. They are compared to the wick, fire and oil of the lamp which, while opposed to each other in their nature, come together to produce light. Just as there are an unlimited variety of colors stemming from the intermixture of the three primary colors, different hues being simply expressions of the specific proportionality of red, yellow and blue, so the unlimited psychological dispositions of living creatures (and of physical forms) stem from the intermixture of the guṇas; specific states of mind being reflections of the particular proportionality of the intermixture of the three guṇas.

The guṇas not only underpin the philosophy of mind in Yoga, but the activation and interaction of these guṇa qualities result in the production of the entirety of physical forms that also evolve from the primordial material matrix, prakṛti, under the same principle. Thus the physical composition of objects like air, water, stone, fire, etc. differs because of their constitutional makeup of specific guṇas: air contains more of the buoyancy of sattva, stones more of the sluggishness of the tamas element, and fire, of rajas. The guṇas allow for the infinite plasticity of prakṛti and the objects of the world.

The process by which the universe evolves from prakṛti is usefully compared to the churning of milk: when milk receives a citric catalyst, yogurt, curds, or butter emerge. These immediate products, in turn, can be further manipulated to produce a further series of products – milk desserts, cheese, etc. Similarly, according to classical Sāṁkhya, the first evolute emerging from prakṛti when it is churned by the guṇas (sattva specifically) is buddhi, intelligence. Intelligence is characterized by the functions of judgment, discrimination, knowledge, ascertainment, will, virtue and detachment, and sattva is predominant in it. This means that in its purest state, when the potential of rajas and tamas are minimized, buddhi is primarily lucid, peaceful, happy, tranquil and discriminatory, all qualities of sattva. It is the interface between puruṣa and all other prakṛtic evolutes. From this vantage point, it can direct awareness out into the objects and embroilments of the world, or, in its highest potential, it can become aware of the presence of puruṣa and consequently redirect itself towards complete realization of the true source of consciousness that pervades it.

From buddhi, ahaṁkāra, or ego is produced (aham “I” + kāra “doing;” referred to as asmitā in this text). This is characterized by the function of self-awareness and self-identity. It is the discursive aspect that processes and appropriates external reality from the perspective of an individualized sense of self or ego – the notion of “I” and “mine” in human awareness. Ahaṁkāra also limits the range of awareness to fit within and identify with the contours of the particular psychophysical organism within which it finds itself in any one embodiment, as opposed to another. In other words, the ahaṁkāra of a typical, unenlightened, bug acts almost like a concave screen, which refracts consciousness to pervade and appropriate the contours of the bug. If the bug dies and becomes, say, a typical, unenlightened dog and then a typical human in subsequent lives, the ahaṁkāra aspect of the citta adjusts to accommodate and absorb consciousness into these new environments. Thus the bug thinks it is a bug, the dog thinks it is a dog, and the human thinks he or she is a human.

When ego in turn is “churned” by the guṇa of sattva inherent in it, manas, the mind, is produced. The mind is the seat of the emotions, of like and dislike, and is characterized by controlling the senses – filtering and processing the potentially enormous amount of data accessible to the senses. It primarily receives, sorts, categorizes and then transmits. It serves as the liaison between the activities of the senses transmitting data from the external world, and buddhi, intelligence. It therefore partakes both of internal and external functioning: internally, it is characterized by reflective synthesis, while simultaneously being a sense because it acts similar to the senses. The puruṣa, or self, is cloaked in these psychic layers prior to receiving a gross body and senses. The Yoga school, while using the terminology of (especially) buddhi, but also ahaṁkāra and manas, differs somewhat from that of Sāṁkhya in conceiving these three as interacting functions of the one citta, mind, rather than as three distinct metaphysical layers. Citta, then, as the term used by Patañjali and the commentators to refer to all three of these cognitive functions combined, is one of the most important terms in the Yoga Sūtras.

3. Philosophy and Psychology of Mind
Yoga is defined by Patañjali as “citta vṛtti nirodha” (YS I.2), the stilling of all states of the citta. There are five vṛttis, a term used frequently throughout the Yoga Sūtras to essentially refer to any sensual impression, thought, idea, or cognition, psychic activity or conscious mental state whatsoever. These five vṛttis are: right knowledge, error, metaphor, deep sleep and memory (YS I.5-11). They are either kliṣṭa, detrimental to the goal of Yoga, or akliṣṭa, conducive to it. The kliṣṭa vṛttis are those stemming from the mind when it is subject to the five kleśas, obstacles – ignorance, ego, desire, aversion, clinging to life – discussed below, and the akliṣṭa vṛttis are those stemming from their opposites – knowledge of the true self and freedom from desire, etc. Put simply, akliṣṭa vṛttis are the mental activities of a jivanmukta, a being who is liberated while still embodied.

The first of these five vṛttis is epistemological, pramāṇa, that is, the sources that constitute the production of valid knowledge of an object – the methods of attaining accurate information about reality. This is discussed in the section on epistemology, and we will simply note here that the first vṛtti is when the mind is in a state of right knowledge, that is, is accurately reflecting external reality (Yoga would not disagree with the basics of the Nyāya tradition as to what constitutes right knowledge, nor with the criteria that produce it). The second vṛtti is error, which can be produced from the same sources as knowledge, and is defined as considering something to be what it is not, a state that can be subsequently removed by true knowledge of what the nature of the thing in question is (such as the perception of two moons when in an intoxicated state).

The third type of vṛtti is, loosely speaking, imagination or metaphor, or, more precisely, the usage of words or expressions that do not correspond to any actual physical reality, but that are understood in common parlance. An example given in the commentaries is the statement that “the arrow stands still, stood still, will stand still.” What this actually means in the mind of the listener is that the arrow has ceased (or will cease) to move, that is, “standing still,” the absence of motion, is really an imagined state of affairs dependent on the idea of motion, but it is then projected as an actual characteristic of the arrow. A more straightforward example from English usage might be: “the sun rises and sets” or “time flies;” common usage has assigned meaning to these imaginary states of affairs, and no one bats an eyelid when such expressions are uttered. In fact, metaphors and similes, which, if dissected to their literal meanings do not correspond to actual objective reality, are normal everyday expressions and ubiquitous in human language, since language is largely figurative.

The fourth vṛtti is deep sleep defined as a state of mind which is based on an absence [of any content]. There is some difference between schools but (in contrast to e.g. Vedānta), the Yoga tradition views deep sleep as a type of vṛtti on the grounds that when one awakes, one remembers that one has either slept well, or slept restlessly, or slept in a stupor. One would not be able to do so if these impressions did not relate back to a state of mind that existed during deep sleep. This is because, in Yoga psychology, memory is the product of saṁskāra, and saṁskāra is caused by experience. Therefore, the memory of having slept well must relate to a state of mind experienced during deep sleep, which is recorded in the citta as memory (the topic of the next sūtra) and remembered upon awakening. This state of mind according to this line of reasoning must therefore pertain to a category of vṛtti distinct from others.

Finally, the fifth vṛtti is memory, defined as the retention of images of sense objects that have been experienced. Any vṛtti leaves its copy on the citta before fading away. Memories are generated from and thus depend on the other types of vṛttis. As noted earlier, every object that has ever been experienced forms a saṁskāra, an imprint, in the citta mind, like a sound is imprinted on a tape recorder, or an image on film. The mind forms an impression of an object through the sense organs, which is called a pratyaya. Once this pratyaya or active image of this object is no longer of active interest to the mind, it becomes an inactive, or latent, saṁskāra. Thus vṛttis, and their pratyaya content, are retained as saṁskāras when they fade. Memory consists of the retrieval of these saṁskāras; memories are the reactivation of the imprints of sense objects that one has experienced and recognized in the past that are not too covered by forgetfulness (tamas). However, it is important to note that these saṁskāras are not just passive imprints but vibrant latent impulses that can get activated under conducive circumstances and can exert influence on a person’s thoughts and behaviors.

The notion of the subconscious in Western psychology corresponds to other less retrievable saṁskāras, primarily from previous lives, which remain latent as subliminal impressions. The mind is thus a storehouse of these recorded saṁskāras, deposited and accumulated in the citta over countless lifetimes. Saṁskāras also account for such things as personality traits, habits, compulsive and addictive behaviors, etc. The stronger or more dominant a cluster of saṁskāras becomes, the more it activates and imposes itself upon the consciousness of the individual, demanding indulgence and perpetuating a vicious cycle that can be very hard to break (the reverse, of course, also holds true with the benevolent akliṣṭa vṛttis discussed below: one can become “addicted,” so to speak, to benevolent yogic activities and lifestyle by dint of constant repetition).

Any other states of mind that one might conceive of would be considered by the Yoga tradition as a subset of one of these five essential categories. Since the mind is never static but always active and changing, vṛttis are constantly being produced, and thus constantly absorb the consciousness of puruṣa away from its own pure nature, channeling it out into the realm of subtle or gross prakṛti.

As noted above, these five categories of vṛttis can be either akliṣṭa, conducive (at least initially) to the ultimate goal of Yoga, or kliṣṭa, detrimental. These participial terms assume an awareness of their nominal form, kleśa; there are five kleśas: ignorance, ego, desire, aversion and clinging to life (YS II.3-9). These kleśas are deeper elements of the psyche than their surface level manifestations as vṛttis. In resonance with all Indic soteriological thought, the first kleśa, ignorance, is the foundation of all the other kleśas, and hence of saṁsāra, so when ignorance is dispelled, the other kleśas, which may exist in latent unconscious form, or in various stages of consciousness, disappear. It is defined as follows: “Ignorance is the notion which takes the self, which is joyful, pure and eternal, to be the non-self, which is painful, unclean and temporary.” The “non-self,” an-ātman, consists not only of the body, which is the locus for enjoyment; and the mind, which is an instrument through which the awareness of puruṣa can contact the world; but also the accessories or paraphernalia of the body, whether animate (such as spouse, animals, and offspring), or inanimate (such as furniture or food).

Ego is to consider the nature of the seer and the nature of the instrumental power of seeing to be the same thing. In other words, ego is the specific aspect of ignorance which identifies the non-self – specifically the intelligence – with the true self, puruṣa (ātman). Ego and ignorance are to some extent the same thing, but there is a difference in degree. Ignorance initially involves a not-as-yet specific notion of “I-ness,” a sense of self as being something other than puruṣa as yet undefined, a partial identification of the real self with buddhi, the intelligence, while ego involves a more developed or complete identity between the puruṣa self and buddhi. The difference is one of degree; ego evolves out of ignorance, and makes the misidentification of non-self with self more concrete and specific.

Moving on to the third kleśa: the hankering, desire or craving for pleasure or the means to attain pleasure by one who remembers past experiences of pleasure, is attachment, rāga. The key ingredient in this process is memory. In other words, one who has experienced pleasure in the past recollects it and hankers to repeat the experience in the present or future, or to attain the means of repeating the experience. It is this dwelling on past experiences that constitutes “attachment.” When a new means of pleasure is perceived, it is memory that infers that the new means of pleasure is the same as or similar to something that produced pleasure in the past, and therefore promises to provide the same or similar pleasure in the present or future.

The fourth kleśa can be understood in a parallel manner to the previous kleśa of attachment: the feeling of resistance, anger, frustration and resentment towards pain and its causes by one who remembers past experiences of similar pain, is aversion. The tendency of clinging-to-life is the fifth kleśa which is taken to be a synonym for the fear of death. Just as the previous sūtras indicated that attachment or aversion to something is caused by positive or negative memories of that thing, aversion to death likewise indicates that one’s memory retains unpleasant recollections of past deaths, although these are latent or subconscious in the present life.

When under the influence of the detrimental vṛttis stemming from the kleśas, the mind becomes attracted or repelled by sense objects drawing its attention. In its attempt to attain that which attracts it, that is, to fulfill desires, and avoid that which repels it, avoid aversions, the mind provokes action, karma, which initiates a vicious reactive cycle. Karma, from the root kṛ, to “do” or “make,” literally means “work,” but inherent in the Indic concept of work, or any type of activity, is the notion that every action breeds a reaction. Thus karma refers not only to an initial act, whether benevolent or malicious, but also to the reaction it produces (pleasant or unpleasant in accordance with the original act) which ripens for the actor either in this life or a future one. Hence people are born into different socio-economic situations, and pleasant or unpleasant things happen to them throughout life in accordance with their own previous actions.

This cycle of action and reaction, or saṁsāra, is potentially eternal and unlimited since not only does any one single act breed a reaction, but the actor must then react to this reaction causing a re-reaction, which in turn fructifies and provokes re-re-reactions, and so on ad infinitum. Since these reactions and re-reactions, etc., cannot possibly be fitted into one life, they spill over from one lifetime to the next. It is in an attempt to portray the sheer unlimited and eternal productive power of karma that Indic thinkers, both Hindu and Buddhist, use such metaphors as “the ocean” of birth and death. Thus, karma, which keeps consciousness bound to the external world and forgetful of its own nature, is generated by the vṛttis, and the vṛttis, in turn, are produced by the kleśas. There is thus a cycle of kleśas, vṛttis and saṁskāras: vṛttis, that is thoughts, etc. stemming form sense experience, (and their consequent actions) are recorded in the citta as saṁskāras, and these saṁskāras eventually activate consciously or subliminally, producing further vṛttis. These vṛttis then provoke action with their corresponding reactions noted above, which in turn are recorded as saṁskāras, and the cycle continues. Kleśas, vṛttis, saṁskāras and karma are thus all interconnected links in the chain of saṁsāra.

The akliṣṭa non-detrimental mental vṛttis, on the other hand, are produced by the sāttvic faculty of discrimination that seeks to control the influence of rajas and tamas and thereby the detrimental vṛttis that they produce. Through the practice of yoga, the yogī attempts to supplant all the rājasic and tāmasic saṁskāras with sāttvic ones until these, too, are restricted in the higher states of meditative concentration — the notions of detrimental and non-detrimental are from the relative perspective of saṁsāra; the detrimental (rājasic and tāmasic) vṛttis cause pain, and the non-detrimental (sāttvic) ones at least lead in the direction of liberation, even though they too must eventually be given up. But these latter do point to the possibility of acting in the world, in one’s prakṛtic body and mind, from an enlightened perspective free from ignorance. This points to the notion of the jīvanmukta: someone who is still embodied and thus functioning with a citta, but a citta that generates vṛttis that are not subject to ignorance, ego, and attachment, etc.

4. Soteriology and Praxis
We have discussed that ignorance is the cause of suffering and saṁsāra, and that when this is removed by discrimination, liberation is attained. The core project of the Sūtras, then, is to outline how to accomplish this. The second chapter, kriyā yoga, is dedicated to this effect, featuring the eight limbs of yoga, that is, to the means of achieving discriminative discernment. The eight limbs are: yamas, abstentions; niyamas, observances; āsana, posture; prāṇāyāma, breath control; pratyahāra disengagement of the senses; dharaṇā, concentration, dhyāna, meditation and samādhi, absorption.

The yamas are: non-violence, truthfulness; refrainment from stealing; celibacy; and renunciation of [unnecessary] possessions. The first of these, ahiṁsā, non-violence, is the yama singled out by the commentators on Patañjali for special attention, indeed, as the root of the other yamas. Patañjali’s goal is to achieve ahiṁsā and enhance it. Ahiṁsā is defined as not injuring any living creature anywhere at any time. Truth, the second yama, is defined as one’s words and thoughts being in exact correspondence to fact. “Refrainment from stealing”, the third yama, is described as not taking things belonging to others, and not even harboring the desire to do so. Celibacy is the control of the sexual organs, a definition further refined as not seeing, speaking with, embracing, or otherwise interacting with members of the opposite sex as objects of desire. Renunciation of possessions is the ability to see the problems caused by the acquisition, preservation and destruction of things, since these only provoke attachment and injury. These yamas are considered the great vow. They are not exempted by one’s class, place, time or circumstance. They are universal.

The niyamas, observances, are: cleanliness, contentment, austerity, study [of scripture], and devotion to God. Cleanliness is external and internal; the former pertains to the body, and the latter to purifying the mind of all contamination (jealousy, pride, vanity, hatred and attachment.) “Contentment,” santoṣa, the second niyama, manifests as disinterest in accumulating more than one’s immediate needs of life. “Austerity,” tapas, is the ability to tolerate the urge to eat and drink, as well as the urge for the dualities of life – hot and cold, etc., to avoid useless talk, and to perform fasts. “Study,” svādhyāya, refers to reading sacred scriptures whose subject matter is liberation, and also includes the repetition of the om syllable. The last item on Patañjali’s list, “devotion to God,” Ῑśvara-praṇidhāna, includes offering all one’s activities to Ῑśvara, the “original teacher,” (YS I.26), without desire for the fruit. This last niyama will be discussed further in the section on theism.

With regards to the third limb of Yoga, the term “āsana” is hardly found in the older texts, except on occasion in the sense of a “seat.” Although the entirety of Yoga is typically understood and presented as āsana, physical posture, in the popular representations of the term in the West, it is actually only the third limb of Yoga, not an end or goal unto itself. Indeed, given that he dedicated 20 sūtras to the yamas and niyamas, Patañjali has relatively little to say about āsana, leaving us with only three sūtras to the topic consisting of a total of nine words – less than 1% of the text.

Vyāsa, the main commentator, knew of a range of āsanas in the 5th century C.E. (listing 12 followed by “etc.”, suggesting a well known tradition of variants). Nonetheless, essentially, posture is a limb of the actual goal of Yoga to the extent that it allows the meditator to sit “firmly,” sthira, and “comfortably,” sukha, for meditation. Indeed, as noted, āsana in fact literally means “seat.” The point is that yogic postures are useful only to the extent to which they facilitate fixing the mind completely by training the body not to be a source of distraction. Prāṇāyāma, breath control, consists of the regulation of the incoming and outgoing breaths. It is defined as the external, internal and restrained movements [of breath], which are drawn out and subtle in accordance to place, time and number. Pratyāhāra, the fifth limb, is defined as withdrawal from sense objects.

This process of consecutive stages of internalization seen in these first five limbs, then, continues throughout the remaining three limbs. The fifth limb, dhāraṇā, concentration, involves fixing the mind on one place. Although Patañjali allows that any object can be used as the support of the mind in dhāraṇā, theistic meditation comes highly recommended (see section on Theism). The seventh limb, meditation, is the one-pointedness of the mind on one image. More specifically, it consists of the continuous flow of the same thought or image of the object of meditation, without being distracted by any other thought. When the image of the object of meditation “flows” uninterrupted in the mind, that is to say when the mind can focus exclusively on that object without any other distraction, the seventh limb of Yoga, dhyāna, has been achieved. The sixth and seventh limbs of Yoga, as well as the eighth, are not different practices as is the case with the previous five limbs, but a continuation and deepening of the same practice.


Samādhi, the final limb, is when that same dhyāna shines forth as the object alone and the mind is devoid of its own reflective nature. When the mind is so fully absorbed in the object of meditation that it loses all notions of itself as a self-conscious, reflective mind, one has reached the state of samādhi. In this state, the mind is no longer aware of itself as meditating on something external to itself; all distinctions between the yogī as the subjective meditator, the act of meditation, and the object of meditation have disappeared. Like a pure crystal which, when placed next to a red flower, appears to completely lose its own character by reflecting the form and color of the flower exclusively, the yogī is no longer self-aware, and is conscious only of the object of meditation, and it is in this level of intensity that samādhi differs from dhyāna. There is thus a progression of concentrative absorption on the object of meditation from dhāraṇa, through dhyāna, to samādhi, the state of consciousness ensuing when all thought has, in fact, been stilled. This is the final goal of Yoga.

There are four stages of saṁprajñāta samādhi, all of which have an ālaṁbana, “a support”. This means that the consciousness of the puruṣa is still flowing through the prakṛtic citta to connect with or be supported by an object of meditational focus (albeit in progressively more subtle ways). In this state, the mind is fixed on one pratyaya, image, or undeviating vṛtti, that of the object of concentration, and resists all change into other states. The object of concentration, whatever it might be, is the ālaṁbana, that is, the unwavering image the object produces on the concentrated mind.

The first level of saṁprajñāta samādhi, vitarka samādhi, is taken to be contemplation on a gross physical object, that is to say, meditating on an object which one experiences as a manifestation or construct of the gross physical or material atomic elements. It is thus the first level of experiencing an object in samādhi.

This first stage is further refined by Patañjali, and subdivided into two subdivisions: sa– “with” vitarka, and nir– “without” vitarka. When the yogī uses an object such as, say, a cow, as the meditational support, or object of concentration (ālaṁbana), but the yogī’s awareness of this object is conflated with the word for and the concept of a cow, this absorption is known as savitarka samādhi (samāpatti), “absorption with physical awareness.” In other words, the yogī’s experience of the object is still subtly tinged with awareness of what the object is called, and with the memory or idea corresponding to that object. Direct experience of the object in its own right and on its own ground of being is tainted by the imposition of conceptual thought upon it.

When, in contrast, the object stands out in its own right without being conflated with the conventional terminologies of language that might refer to it, or with any idea or meaning it might generate, nirvitarka samādhi has been attained. This non-conceptual, or, perhaps more accurately, super-conceptual stage occurs when the yogī’s citta has been purged of any memory awareness of what the object is and what it is called. In other words, no saṁskāric imprints pertaining to “cow” are activated on any subconscious or intuitive level whatsoever. In this state there is no recognition of what the object of meditation is, or what its name or function are; recognition is colored exclusively by the object of focus itself without any discursive analysis of the object’s place in the greater scheme of things and without the normal instinctive impulsion to identify it. Moreover, the mind has also given up its own nature of being an organ of knowledge. In other words, awareness is not even aware of the mind as being an instrument channeling awareness onto an object. In a sense, all “knowledge” of the object as conventionally understood has been suspended, and the mind has completely transformed itself into the object, free from any discursive identification or self-awareness. The object can now shine forth in its own right as an object with its own inherent existence, free from labels, categorizations or situatedness in the grand scheme of things. We can note that the object has in effect become the yogi’s entire universe, since awareness is focused on it exclusively and is thus unaware of anything else, even the discursive process itself.

Keeping the metaphysics of Sāṁkhya in mind, we know that the five gross elements which constitute gross physical objects evolve from elements that are more subtle still. That is to say, they are actually evolutes from the tanmātras, the five subtle elements. The second level of samādhi concentration, vicāra samādhi, involves absorption into this more subtle aspect of the object of meditation, that is to say, perceiving the object as actually consisting of these more subtle ingredients. In fact, the subtle substructure of external reality can refer to any of the evolutes from prakṛti, as the tanmātras themselves evolve from ahaṁkāra which, in turn, evolves from buddhi. Thus, the latter can also be considered sūkṣma, subtle. As a new archer first aims at large objects, and then progressively smaller ones, so the neophyte yogī first experiences the gross nature of the object in meditation, and then its progressively more subtle nature. Thus, instead of experiencing the object as comprised of compact quantum masses, the bhūtādi gross elements, as in the first state of vitarka, in vicāra, the yogī experiences them as vibratory, radiant potential, subtle energy, (a sublevel of reality normally imperceptible to the senses).

Vicāra samādhi, like vitarka, is also subdivided into two subdivisions of sa– “with,” and nir– “without.” When the intensity of focus on the object of meditation deepens such that the yogī penetrates its gross externalization and experiences the object as consisting of subtle elements, the tanmātras, but subtle elements circumscribed as existing in time and space, then the ensuing concentrative state of awareness is known as savicāra. In other words, in savicāra meditation, an object is perceived as consisting of subtle elements, but the object is still experienced as existing in the present time, rather than in the past or future, and is still bounded by space, that is, it is taking up some distinct physical space in the presence of the meditator rather than being situated anywhere else. Briefly put, at this stage, the yogī still has some level of awareness of space and time.

When, on the other hand, the yogī can focus on the object unconditioned by such dimensionality; in other words when he or she cannot just focus on the subtle nature of an object, but transcends space and time and perceives that these subtle essences pervade and underpin all things at all times, then the yogī has attained the state of nirvicāra. In this state, the yogī is no longer aware of dimensionality and temporality – the here and now. The object is no longer a distinct object taking up extension in a portion of space different from other spatial objects and existing in the present, rather than any other time, because the yogī experiences the subtle elements of the object as underpinning all objects at all times. In other words, the form of the object dissolves as it were under the power of the yogī’s focus, and the yogī now is simply experiencing vibrant subtle energies pervading all reality everywhere and eternally.

There is no consensus amongst the commentators as to the exact nature of the last two stages of samādhi, ānanda and asmitā, underscoring the fact that such states are experiential and do not lend themselves to scholastic categorization and analysis. The version that surfaces most commonly utilizes the three components of knowledge identified in Hindu philosophical discourse to demarcate the differences between these four stages of samādhi. In any act of knowledge, there is the “knower,” or subject of knowledge; the instruments of knowledge (mind and senses, etc.); and the object of knowledge. These are termed “gṛhitṛ,” “grahaṇa,” and “grāhya” respectively (literally: the “grasper,” the “instrument of grasping,” and “that which is grasped”). In the first two stages of samādhi outlined above, vitarka and vicāra, the object upon which the mind is fixed, whether perceived as its grosser outer form or subtler inner constituents, is an external one and therefore considered grāhya (“that which is grasped”). Now, in the third stage, ānanda samādhi, the yogī transfers awareness from the objects of the senses, grāhya, to the organs of the senses themselves, grahaṇa (the instruments of grasping), or more precisely, the powers (śakti) behind the sensual abilities of seeing, touching, smelling, tasting and hearing, (rather than the gross physical organs of eye, ear, nose, etc.). The citta now becomes aware of the mechanisms of cognition, the instruments of the senses. It becomes aware of the internal organ through which external objects are “grasped,” rather than the external objects themselves, whether experienced in their gross or subtle constitutions.

Since, in Sāṁkhya, the grahaṇa includes the internal organ, manas, buddhi and ahaṁkāra, the support of the mind in ānanda samādhī is the citta itself, specifically in its aspect as ahaṁkāra. Thus, in this third stage, awareness becomes aware of the citta itself in its capacity of acquiring knowledge, as an ‘instrument’ which ‘grasps’ the objects of the senses. In other words, the mind focuses on its own cognizing nature. Since the guṇa of sattva predominates in ahaṁkāra and buddhi, and sattva is the source of bliss, Patañjali calls this stage ānanda samādhi, the “blissful absorption.”

Finally, by involuting awareness further still and penetrating the internal organ of meditation to its still more essential nature, one transcends even the instruments of knowledge and arrives at buddhi, to the closest prakṛtic coverings, to the puruṣa itself. Relentless in the pursuit of true and ultimate knowledge, at this point the yogī attains the fourth and final stage of saṁprajñāta samādhi. Having penetrated the constituents of the external object of meditation through its gross and subtle elements, consecutively in the first two stages of samādhi, and having withdrawn itself from external cognition and into a state of contemplating the powers behind the very organs of cognition in the third, awareness penetrates the citta further still, absorbing itself in the citta’s feature of buddhi, the grahitṛ, “the grasper,” the closest prakṛtic covering to the puruṣa itself.

One final step now remains where this ultimate uncoupling of puruṣa from all connection with prakṛti and all involvement with the citta occurs. This is asaṁprajñāta samādhi, samādhi without support. This all results in a total of six stages of saṁprajñāta samādhi, before the final stage of asaṁprajñāta samādhi. Therefore, including the latter, there will be a total of seven stages of samādhi explicitly expressed by Patañjali in his system.

As we have seen, the four states of saṁprajñāta all involved the citta in various ways. Asaṁprajñāta is beyond the mind. It is therefore beyond thought and word. To underscore this, perhaps, Patañjali has used the simple pronoun anya, “the other,” rather than a descriptive term, thereby pointing to asaṁprajñāta as a state which transcends all descriptive categories and nomenclatures. The commentators present asaṁprajñāta samādhi, samādhi “without support,” as being the state where the awareness of puruṣa is no longer aware of any external entity at all, including the citta, since the latter has dissolved itself. This state corresponds with nirbīja, “without seed” (I.51). In this final and ultimate state, the supreme goal of Yoga, the mind is not supported by any active thought. The vṛttis of the mind exist simply as potential, and the saṁskāras, the subconscious imprints that trigger thoughts, memories and karma, are also latent. Since the mind is now empty of all thoughts, the awareness of puruṣa now no longer has any object whatsoever to be aware of, and thus, for the first time, can only become self-aware (loosely speaking). The final goal of Yoga has been attained.

Another way of considering this is that awareness is eternal, it cannot ever cease being aware. That being the case, the self’s only options are of what it is aware of: it can be object aware, or (again, loosely speaking) subject aware – that is, aware of entities or objects other than itself, or exclusively aware of itself as awareness with no reference to any other entity. After myriad births being aware of the unlimited varieties of prakṛtic objects, puruṣa has now come to the point of self-realization – realizing itself as distinct from not just objects of thought, but the very faculty and process of thought itself, the citta and its vṛttis. When there are no objects to detain its awareness other than its own self, the svarupa of YS I.3, this is asaṁprajñāta samādhi.

5. Epistemology
The Yoga school accepts three sources of receiving knowledge, pramāṇa, as valid (YS I.7), in accordance with the Sāṁkhya tradition. The first is sense perception, pratyākṣa, placed first on the list of pramāṇas because the other pramāṇas are dependent on it. Vyāsa defines sense perception as being the state or condition of the mind, vṛtti, which apprehends both the specific (viśeṣa) and generic (sāmānya) nature of an external object discussed further below. This apprehension is accomplished by the citta encountering a sense object through the senses and forming an impression of this object, a vṛtti. More specifically, the tāmasic nature of sense objects imprint themselves upon the mind, and are then illuminated in the mind by the mind’s sāttvic nature. Due to pervading the mind, the puruṣa, or self, then becomes conscious of this mental impression, as if it were taking place within itself, indistinguishable from itself. In actual fact, the impression is imprinted on the citta, mind, which is pervaded by consciousness but external to it.

The second pramāṇa, source of receiving valid knowledge, is anumāna, inference (logic), defined as the assumption that an object of a particular category shares the same qualities as other objects in the same category – qualities which are not shared by objects in different categories. Yoga accepts Nyāya principles here.

Finally, agama, “verbal testimony,” the third source of valid knowledge accepted by Patañjali, is the relaying of accurate information through the medium of words by a “trustworthy” person who has perceived or inferred the existence of an object, to someone who has not. “Trustworthy” is someone whose statements cannot be contradicted, has sense organs appropriately working in a suitable external environment, and is trustworthy and compassionate and free from defects such as illusion, laziness, deceit, dull-wittedness and so forth. The words of such a reliable authority enter the ear and produce an image, vṛtti, in the mind of the hearer that corresponds to the vṛtti experienced by the trustworthy person. The person receiving the information in this manner has neither personally experienced nor inferred the existence of the object of knowledge, but valid knowledge of the object is nonetheless achieved, which distinguishes this source of knowledge from the two discussed previously.

Returning to the most important episteme, perception, one must note that there are different types of pratyakṣa: the commentary on the Sāṁkhya Kārikā, the Yuktidīpikā, speaks of yogic perception as well as sensual perception (38.2). Indeed, several schools make a distinction between aparapratyakṣa, conventional perception, and parapratyakṣa, supernormal perception, or, as the Sāṁkhya Sūtras put it, external perception, bahya-pratyakṣa, and internal perception abahya pratyakṣa (I.90). The perception of interest to Yoga is the latter, that of a supernormal nature. But even the startling claims of omniscience that one encounters in the text are relevant only as signposts of experiences that the yogī will encounter on the path of Yoga, not as articles of faith.

Returning to the term viśeṣa, “particularity” or “specificity,” the term is best understood in contrast to “sāmānya,” which refers to the general category of an object. Let us consider a “cow,” or the standard item used to exemplify a generic object in philosophical commentarial discourse, a “pot.” The word “cow” refers to a generic category of bovine creature with udders and horns, who give milk and go “moo”; and “pot” to a roundish container usually made of clay (in India) that holds liquids or other substances. Although there are millions of cows in the world, and each and every one is distinct, individual and unique in some way, the term “cow” does not particularize or distinguish one cow from another. It is a general term that refers to an entire category of creatures. Likewise with the term “pot.” The term sāmānya, then refers to the genus, species or general category of something; terms like “cow” and “pot,” indeed all words in human speech, refer to objects only in terms of their generic characteristics. Viśeṣa, by contrast is what particularizes ultimate entities from each other, and ultimately one atom from another (the delimiting feature an atom has that makes it a unique specific individual, distinct from any other atom).

According to Yoga, these three forms of knowledge as conventionally accepted are all limited because they cannot provide information about “particulars” or specifics. Verbal testimony is dependent on words, and words, like “cow,” can only point to the cow as a member of a general class of things – so when we say something like “there is a cow in the field,” we are only really giving information about the cow as a member of a species, and not about particulars: we are not conveying precise information about the specifics of the particular individual cow in question.

Along exactly the same lines, inference, also, only deals with generalities (and is, in fact, dependent on perception in the first place). As for empirical sense perception, it is true, say the commentators, that when we look at a particular cow or pot, we might be able to pick up on some characteristic that distinguishes the particular cow or pot in front of us from other cows and pots – perhaps this cow has odd skin color or the pot an odd shape. But conventional sense perception, says Vyāsa, cannot provide us information about the precisely specific or subtle nature of an object – its atomic composition for example, nor about distant or hidden objects beyond the range of the senses.

Only through the clear, unobstructed insight of samādhi can one fully grasp the viśeṣa, particularity, of an object, its subtle substructure of distinct atoms and subtle essences. Patañjali claims that the yogī can tell the difference between two identical items, since, although they appear identical to normal perception, the atoms comprising them are different, and it is these that the yogī can perceive. We must keep in mind that the yogic tradition claims one can actually perceive these essences through the undeviatingly concentrated focus of mind in the higher stages of samādhi, not merely theorize their existence. This perception, then, is actually a form of pratyakṣa, but not that of conventional sense perception. As noted earlier, the Yuktidīpikā commentary on Sāṁkhya points out that yogic pratyakṣa transcends normal sense-based perception. It is parapratyakṣa, “higher,” supreme, supernormal, perception.

Additionally, since the citta is by nature luminous, once the influences of rajas and tamas have been removed, there is nothing to obstruct its natural luminosity, and it can pass beyond the limitations inherent in finite objects due to the tamas preponderant in physical things. The ingredients of the mind itself are the same as those underpinning the object in external reality, the three guṇas; we must keep in mind here that the gross and subtle elements are nothing other than tamas-dominant evolutes from sattva-dominant buddhi and ahaṁkāra. Thus when fully sāttvic, the mind can transcend its own kleśa limitations (II.2ff) and merge into the common substratum of all things. This corresponds to such states as savicāra described in the section on samādhi, when the yogī’s awareness perceives that the subtle nature of the object of meditation as well as the meditating mind itself actually pervades all objects and thus all reality. So, once the obstructing qualities of rajas and tamas have been removed, then the pure luminosity of consciousness passes beyond the limitations of all boundaries and finite objects. In other words, the commentators claim that in the higher stages of samādhi, the yogī becomes essentially omniscient since awareness is no longer limited to the body or dimensionality but can radiate out infinitely and permeate the subtle substratum in the form of buddhi, ahaṁkāra, the tanmātra, etc. (as well as the specific conglomeration of atoms that emerge from these tanmātras), underpinning all objects. It can thus perceive the viśeṣa, particularity, that is, the specific atomic composition, of any particular object. As an aside, this ability reflects the metaphysics of the supernormal mystic powers inherent in the Yoga tradition, a discussion of which occupies almost a quarter of the text (but which are beyond the scope of this entry).

6. Ethics
Patañjali outlines a practice essential for enhancing sattva and lucidity, the prerequisite for attaining steadiness in the mind. We have established by now that the path and attainments of Yoga are nothing other than the maximization of the guṇa of sattva. Central to the Yoga tradition, then, are the ethical and other practices indispensable to this objective. Verse I.33 states that as a result of cultivating an attitude of “friendship” with those who find themselves in a “situation of happiness,” one of “compassion” towards those in “distress,” one of “joy” towards “pious” selves, and one of “equanimity” or indifference towards the “impious,” sattva is generated. Consequently, the mind becomes lucid – clarity being the nature of sattva. Once clear, one-pointed concentration, or steadiness, which is the goal of meditational Yoga, can be achieved by the mind.

From an ethical point of view, by being a well-wisher towards those who are happy, as well as those who are virtuous, the contamination of envy is removed. By compassion towards those miserable, that is, by wishing to remove someone’s miseries as if they were one’s own, the contamination of the desire to inflict harm on others is removed. By equanimity towards the impious, the contamination of intolerance is removed. By thus removing these traits of envy, desire to inflict harm, and intolerance, which are characteristics of rajas and tamas, the sattva natural to the mind can manifest. In the ensuing state of lucidity, the inclination towards seeking higher truths by controlling the vṛttis, in other words towards cultivating a focused state of mind by the practice of yoga, spontaneously arises, because the inclination for enlightenment is natural to the pure sāttvic mind.

A further set of ethical practices indispensable for increasing the sattva component of the mind are the five yamas, observances (literally “restraints”) of chapter II: non-violence, truthfulness; refrainment from stealing; celibacy and renunciation of [unnecessary] possessions. From these, ahiṁsā, non-violence, is the yama singled out by the commentators for special attention, and therefore leads the list and thus, the entire eight limbs of Yoga (it seems important to note that the yamas themselves lead the list of the eight limbs suggesting that one’s yogic accomplishment remains limited until the yamas are internalized and put into practice) (YS II.30).

Vyāsa accordingly takes ahiṁsā as the root of the other yamas. He defines it as not injuring any living creature anywhere at any time. Just as the footprints of an elephant covers the footprints of all other creatures, so does ahiṁsā cover all the other yamas – one continues to undertake more and more vows and austerities for the sole purpose of purifying ahiṁsā.

Vyāsa defines “truth,” the second yama, as one’s words and thoughts being in exact correspondence to fact, that is, to whatever is known through the three processes of knowledge accepted by the Yoga school. Speech is for the transfer of one’s knowledge to others, and should not be deceitful, misleading or devoid of value. It should be for the benefit of all creatures, and not for their harm. However, underscoring the centrality of ahiṁsā – truth must never result in violence. In other words, if there is ever a conflict between the yamas – if observing one yama results in the compromise of another – then ahiṁsā must always be respected first.

“Refrainment from stealing,” the third yama, is described as not taking things belonging to others, and not even harboring the desire to do so. Vyāsa defines “celibacy” as the control of the sexual organs, and this is further refined by Vācaspati Miśra as not seeing, speaking with, embracing, or otherwise interacting with members of the opposite sex as objects of desire. In short, self-realization cannot be attained if one is sexually absorbed because this indicates that one is still seeking fulfillment on the sensual level, and thus misidentifying with the non-self.

Vyāsa defines “renunciation of possessions” as the ability to see the problems caused by the acquisition, preservation and destruction of things, since these only provoke attachment and injury. These yamas are considered the great vow; they are not exempted by one’s class, place, time or circumstance. They are universal in all aspects of life’s affairs and social interactions. Without them rajas and tamas cannot be curtailed, and the sattva essential to the higher stages of Yoga is unattainable.

7. Theism
Patañjali in YS I.23 states that the goal of Yoga can be attained by the grace of God, Ῑśvara-prāṇidhānād vā. The theistic, or Ῑśvaravāda element in Indic thought stretches back at least to the late Vedic period. Of the six “schools” of traditional thought that stem from this period, five – Nyāya, Vaiśeṣika, Vedānta, Yoga and Sāṁkhya – were, or became, theistic. Sāṁkhya, although often represented as nontheistic, was, in point of fact, widely theistic in its early expressions, and continued to retain widespread theistic variants outside of the later classical philosophical school associated with Ῑśvarakṛṣṇa, as evidenced in the Purāṇas and Bhagavad Gītā. Reflecting Patañjali’s undogmatic and nonsectarian sophistication, although Ῑśvara-praṇidhāna, “devotion to God” may not be the exclusive or mandatory way to attain realization of the self (given the particle vā “or” in I.23) it is clearly favored by him. The term “Ῑśvara” occurs in three distinct contexts in the Yoga Sūtras. The first, beginning with I.23, is in the context of how to attain the ultimate goal of Yoga, namely, the cessation of all thought, saṁprajñāta samādhi and realization of puruṣa. Patañjali presents dedication to Ῑśvara as one such option. But it is important to note the word va, “or,” in this sūtra, indicating that Patañjali presents devotion to Ῑśvara, the Lord, as an optional means of attaining samādhi, rather than an obligatory one.

In the ensuing discussion, Patañjali states that:

the Lord is a special self because he is untouched by the deposits of saṁskāras, karma and its fructification, and the obstacles to the practice of yoga, the kleśas of nescience, ego, attachment, aversion and the will-to-live. He is omniscient, and also the teacher of the ancients, because he is not limited by Time.

Given the primary context of the Sūtras, namely fixing the mind on an object, two sūtras, I.27–28, specify how Ῑśvara is to be meditated upon: “his designation is the mystical syllable “om,” and its repetition, japa, and the contemplation of its meaning should be performed.” This points to the ubiquitous and most prominent form of Hindu meditation from the classical period to the present day: mantra recitation (japa). As a result of this devotional type of meditation, “comes the realization of the inner consciousness and freedom from all obstacles.”

The second context in which Patañjali refers to Ῑśvara is in the first sūtra in chapter II, where kriyā yoga, the path of action, is described as consisting of austerity, study and devotion to the Lord. By performing such kriyā yoga, samādhi is attained and the obstacles (the kleśas of II.3), are weakened. Finally, Ῑśvara surfaces again in a third context in the second chapter, II.32, where the niyamas are listed. The niyamas, which are the second limb of the eight-limbed path of Yoga, consist of cleanliness, contentment, austerity, study and, as in the other two contexts, Ῑśvarapraṇidhāna, devotion to Ῑśvara (thus, the three ingredients of kriyā yoga are all niyamas). The various benefits associated with following the yamas and niyamas, ethics and morals, are noted in the ensuing sūtras of the chapter, and II.45 states that the benefit from the niyama of devotion to God is the attainment of samādhi. This is the final reference to Ῑśvara in the text, but it is significant, because all the boons mentioned as accruing from the other yamas and niyamas (there are ten in all) represent prakṛtic, or material, attainments – vitality, knowledge of past lives, detachment, etc., etc. It is only from Ῑśvarapraṇidhāna, the last item on the list of yamas and niyamas, that the ultimate goal of Yoga, samādhi, is achieved. These then are the gleanings that can be extracted from Patañjali’s characteristically frugal sūtras.

From these we can conclude that Patañjali is definitely promoting a degree of theistic practice in the Yoga Sūtras. Although in the first context, Ῑśvarapraṇidhāna, devotional surrender to God, is optional as a means of attaining samādhi, Patañjali does direct six sūtras to Ῑśvara, which is not insignificant given the frugality of his sūtras. This devotional surrender is not optional in the second context, kriyā yoga. Since it is likewise not optional in the third context as a niyama, which is a prerequisite to meditational yoga, Patañjali seems to be requiring that all aspiring yogīs be devotionally oriented in the preparatory stages to the higher goals of Yoga and, while in the higher, more meditational stages of practice they may shift their meditational focus of concentration to other objects – even, ultimately, to any object of their pleasing (I.39) – they would best be advised to retain Ῑśvara as object thereafter, since this “special puruṣa” can bestow perfection of samādhi which other objects cannot (II.45).

Patañjali also states that Ῑśvara is represented by the mystical syllable “om.” Om has been understood as a sonal incarnation of Brahman (which is the most common term used for the Absolute Truth in the Upaniṣads), since the late Vedic period. A scholastic such as Patañjali would most certainly have been well schooled in the Upaniṣads (especially given his own mandate of the prerequisite of study for success in yoga, II.1 & 44), which, as an orthodox thinker, he would have accepted as śruti, divine revelation. Even though he never refers to Brahman in the Sūtras, here again we must wonder whether along with all the Ῑśvara theologies of his time he is quite consciously equating the Upaniṣadic Brahman with this personal Ῑśvara, by means of this common denominator of om.

It is through the sound om that the yogi is to fix the mind on Ῑśvara. After all, since Ῑśvara, as a type of puruṣa, is beyond prakṛti, and therefore beyond conceptualization or any type of vṛtti, how is one to fix one’s mind upon him – the prakṛtic mind cannot perceive that which is finer than itself? Patañjali here provides the means: through the recitation of the syllable in which Ῑśvara manifests. Such recitation is called japa (an old Vedic term common in the old Brāhmaṇa texts, where it referred to the soft recitation of Vedic mantras by the priest.) By constantly repeating om and contemplating its meaning, artha, namely Ῑśvara, the mind of the yogī becomes one-pointed – the goal of all yoga practice. Repeating the sound om and “contemplating its meaning,” namely, that it is the sound representation of Ῑśvara, the object of the yogī’s surrender, when coupled with Patañjali’s usage of the word praṇidhāna, surrender, in I.23, points to chanting the mantra in a devotional mood. This is quintessential Hindu theistic meditation, the most prominent form of Hindu Yoga evidenced from antiquity to the present day.


Ayurveda & An Introduction to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
“The sage Patanjali described a path with eight (ashta) limbs (anga) in order to quiet the mind and attain yoga or reunification with the Divine. Patanjali Yoga is called both Raja Yoga (The Royal Path) and Ashtanga Yoga (The Eight Limbs). The classical Ashtanga Yoga of Patanjali should not be mixed up with the modern proprietary form of yoga called Ashtanga Yoga which was developed by Pattabhi Jois.

The Yoga Sutras consist of 195 sutras that, if understood and practiced, lead to a “reunion” with the ultimate reality. A sutra is the thread of an idea usually expressed as a single sentence but may string together into two or three sentences. The sutras constitute an outline of the science. Before there were books, sutras were memorized and teachers would expound upon them. The date that Patanjali lived is unknown but is believed to be before 300 CE, as important commentaries on his writings, such as Vyasa’s Yoga Bhasya, are available beginning in the 4th century. Patanjali’s approach to yoga adopts the cosmic world view of Sankhya philosophy and develops a technique for transcending the limited ahamkara (ego) and returning the soul (atman) to Purusha.

The most important tenet of the Yoga Sutras is found in the second sutra (statement) of the first section of the text: “Yoga chitta vritti nirodha.” It is very famous. This sutra means that yoga (union) is achieved when the disturbances (vritti) of the mind (chitta) are eradicated (nirodha). The rest of the Yoga Sutras are instructions regarding how to quiet the mind and attain this state of yoga.”